China’s Food Poisoning Hazards

Sasha | May 18, 2011 | Comments (15)

With all the contaminated foods and drinks now reported in China the state of eating or drinking these days seems like dodging mines in a minefield, anything these days seemingly can be a hazard. Every time I get sick I have to wonder was it the contaminated milk, the Sichuan peppers or just an un-hygienic meal from a restaurant that caused the 3-5 days of agony.  China just seems to be full of possible food poisoning hazards!

Recently a whole string of food contamination issues have been popping up in the news from the glowing pork discovered in Shanghai to the contaminated yogurt, toxic baby formula and most recently the exploding watermelons blowing up left right and center due to some toxic chemicals used to promote rapid growth.  Now thanks to the Chinese government loosening its grip hold on the reporting of food contamination issues it seems like every second week another food contamination scandal is blowing up in the news and it certainly has got me worried.

Exploding Watermelons - China Real Time Reporter

Now I’m by no means an expert on the food contamination issues in China but I’ve watched enough news reports, read enough articles and been sick with suspected food poisoning enough in my time in China to be pretty concerned about the food I’m consuming.  In fact it is sitting in a haze of low blood sugar levels and excruciating cramps caused by suspected food poisoning that triggered me to write this article.

Recently I was sitting at the Shanghai Entry and Exit Bureau waiting a painful 2 1/2 hours to submit my application for a visa extension.  Needless to say in all that time I got pretty hungry so what did I do I went to the nearest convenience store that just so happened to be Family Mart and bought a prepackaged burrito.  When I got back the the visa office and opened the package I discovered something horrifying, flies, small flies and a lot of them who had apparently set up house inside the packaging.  Goodbye lunch, goodbye appetite.  How could this happen! Surely it was all hygienically packaged, surely it had been refrigerated, so how did those flies end up in the packaging? The only way I could figure they got in there was during the packaging process. This had me now asking myself how many other foods in that factory were contaminated with flies and who knows what other nasty bugs!

Family Mart Pudong

The guilty Family Mart store in Pudong

This incident however was minor compared to my not so pleasant memories of a bout of food poisoning I came down with just a month after arriving in Shanghai in 2010.  Somehow I managed to survive getting food poisoning in China the 7 months prior to moving to Shanghai surprisingly considering those months were spent in a small rural city called Keqiao in Zhejiang province and many other rural towns in southern China. Surely if there was anywhere I would have gotten sick it would have be there.  But no, just a mere month into my new life in Shanghai both me and my roomate got struck down with food poisoning off some pre-cooked chicken bought from the Carrefour supermarket at Zhongshan Park.  It was unbelievable, how could this massive French supermarket chain well known for it’s excellent products cause the both of us to get sick.  It never even entered our minds that buying that pre-cooked salty chicken would go from being a quick delicious meal to something the both of us would regret eating.  It had me wondering if a massive chain like Carrefour couldn’t keep control over its food safety standards how was their any hope for the little guy who didn’t have the money to ensure standards were kept up to scratch.

The not so innocent supermarket.

So here I am again, somehow with yet another case of food poisoning, the second case in 8 months and I’m sure it won’t be my last bout during my time in China.  And lets just say I really don’t want to have to go through this again anytime soon!  I’m determined to minimise the risk of contracting food poisoning again by being wary and making smart choices with my food. And despite the lack of any real regulations that are actually strictly implemented to ensure food safety (in fact enough money will buy you an excellent food safety rating for your restaurant) there are still some things you can do to minimise your risk of contracting the most unpleasant experience.


Tips for Avoiding Food Poisoning


  • Always ensure meat is thoroughly cooked before eating.  If you do buy precooked meat re-heat it before eating.
  • Eat organic fruit and vegetables to ensure no dangerous pesticides or growth educing chemicals haven’t been used.
  • Avoid street food that has been prepared or cooked in a unhygienic environment.
  • Avoid eating meat off the street particularly in summer unless it has been kept refrigerated at least with ice.
  • Those small restaurants that have no one in them at what should be a busy time is probably empty for a reason, if no ones eating there you shouldn’t either.
  • Use disposable chopsticks where you can, they’re often more hygienic then the ones that are washed and reused.
  • Use a sanatiser wipe of boiled water to sanatise cutlery at restaurants, particularly at smaller establishments where dishes aren’t cleaned to hygienic standards.
  • Do not eat at restaurants or streets stalls that are dirty or have animals freely wandering around such as cats and dogs.
  • Never drink the tap water unless it has been boiled!


Have you been struck down with food poising in China or while travelling? Do you have any food safety nightmare stories? Share them in the comments below.

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Category: Health & Safety

About Sasha: Sasha is a sassy Aussie lassie who is living it up as an expat in Shanghai. When she’s not teaching English or slaving away writing her next story she can be found scheming her next grand travel adventure, dancing up a storm at Shanghai’s hippest clubs and taking an uncountable number of photos of random things. View author profile.

Comments (15)

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  1. Charlie says:

    I’m personally not too worried about food poisoning but the quality of the food in China is indeed a serious concern. The best thing you can do is cook at home.
    Charlie recently posted..Five Must-See Websites to Advance Your Chinese

    • Sasha says:

      Absolutely cooking at home will certainly reduce a lot of risk! At least you know exactly what’s going in there and how it’s being prepared! As long as salt, soy sauce and chicken stock doesn’t somehow get contaminated then hopefully we can all be safe!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Seriously. I’m pretty resigned to the fact that I’m probably eating a crapload of chemicals and nasty stuff every day here. I really don’t think there’s any way to be safe when the things that are contaminated run from milk to meat to freaking watermelons (and these are just the scares that manage to make it into the news!). Even if you try to watch what you eat, there is just no way of knowing- especially if you eat out at restaurants.

    Add to that my serious love for street bbq and I’m pretty sure China is actually going to kill me.
    Stephanie recently posted..Jewels of Xi’an- The Terracotta Warriors

    • Sasha says:

      Haha yeah it is a risky food country to be in. That being said I’ve seen some pretty nasty fly covered food in Thailand and I still can’t figure out why that restaurant was so crowded!!!

    • James Loh says:

      I just moved to China few months ago. Listening to the news on food safety definitely scare me a lot. In China, even if you spend tonnes of money buying quality you can’t be sure that it’s still safe. The Chinese just don’t have the sense of moral to prepare safe food. This society is just focusing on getting rich.

  3. Senkay says:

    Sure it’s nice to blame China, but food poisoning is pretty common all over the world, even 1st world countries like the United States.

    While China is worse off due to the street vendors and the tons of unregulated small restaurants, but the Carrefour poisoning you got probably was less to do with China and more to do with the fact that food poisoning is ridiculously common.

    For example, Chipotle was often criticized for having tons of cases.

    Also, I once got massive food poisoning while eating at Disney World in Florida.

    It just happens. The best way to avoid it as others have said is to do your own cooking!

    • Sasha says:

      Thanks for your comment Senkay. Absolutely food poisoning is a problem in the west and indeed all over the world. However you can’t ignore China’s extremely poor food safety standards. My food poisoning incidents were most likely one off isolated incidents however in China, food poisoning is more than an isolated incident in a small restaurant it is a far greater problem on and industrial level. Whole ranges of packaged products on supermarket shelves have been found to be contaminated and it’s not just with one brand, supermarket or company it is across a whole range of completely unrelated food products. Aside from that there are contamination issues with fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. The problem for China is a country wide one and a serious one at that related to poor or minimal legislation on food standards, the lack of quality enforcement of the legislation and corruption which prevents the legislation working as it should. This is a big problem for China that has many Chinese wanting to buy baby formula from the US, boycott buying oranges from certain regions and just in general really just have people worry about the safety of food especially for Children and infants as they’re the ones who have been died as a result of many of these contamination incidents.

  4. Archie says:

    Food in China is amazing. So many varieties of tastes, styles and flavours. This place is great for food. But absoultely, like a lot of things in China, quantity trumps quality.

    Actually, the reason I wanted to comment here, is because I lived in Harbin for some time. And I bought pre-cooked roast chicken from Carrefour three or four times over the course of a year there, and everytime I did, an hour after I ate it, I know about. You could say I was a sucker for punishment, or that I just really craved a roast chicken. But clearly there’s something to be said about Carrefours chickens here…..

    • Sasha says:

      I will say that since that bout of illness I got from Carrefour chicken I had some again a few months later but this time reheated it in the oven. That’s interesting that it seems to be a much larger problem of quality control at Carrefour. I don’t think I’d quite have the *guts* excuse the pun to keep going for that roast chicken though. lol

  5. So I got food poisoning for the second time in the last 2 weeks and it made me think of this blog post. Now that the weather is getting hotter, you need to be extra careful. Bacteria travels a lot easier in hot and humid weather. The sanitation levels here in China are just plain deplorable. I mean people don’t even wash their hands after they go to the bathroom and smoke a cigarette, and then they will cook food with out any gloves on their hands. It’s really bad, it’s one of those things you try not even to think about. I mean there is nothing you can really do, it’s not like you cannot eat. But simple reforms in China like requiring people to use gloves when cooking, or washing your hands before you touch food could go a long way. But the government is too concerned about keeping people off Facebook to take care of important things like this.
    Tom @ Tom’s China Blog recently posted..The Anatomy of A Chinese Word

    • Sasha says:

      Oh Tom do I hear ya!!! And I totally feel your pain of food poisoning, twice in two weeks! WOW ONLY IN CHINA!!! Sometimes I forget just how filthy China is and how bad the standards are then I go to Hong Kong where hygiene and food safety advocating posters are everywhere and I’m reminded of China’s shortcomings in this particular area which really is one they should actually want to get right! Oh it does disgust me 1. to see NO soap in the toilets 2. knowing that people aren’t washing their hands and that I’m inevitably going to get their nasty germs 3. seeing your food get prepared without gloves knowing that they certainly haven’t used soap and may not have washed their hands at all!!!

  6. [...] from Hong Kong. Try not to kill my lungs with second hand smoke, try not to make me sick with your poor hygiene, try not to run me down with a scooter when I’m strolling leisurely on the foot path and [...]

  7. Ser Zile says:

    im sick. 4th day. problems dampened but still on. take me back to serbia, please!

  8. Eric says:

    Buy traceable products or go to restaurants that uses these items. Full transparency on your food.

  9. Hanne says:

    I’m 30 years old and never been food poisoned until 3 days ago after being in Shanghai… Hope I’ll never have to experience this again.

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