Even though no retailer has done more to enhance food safety in China than Walmart, the company found itself in the headlines again this week as regulators discovered products containing banned ingredients on the retailer’s shelves.
Media reports said Walmart removed products from shelves after a food safety official in Beijing discovered high levels of cadmium in squid and excessive benzopyrene in sesame oil. Walmart said it had received appropriate regulatory documents from suppliers prior to offering the products, according to reports.
Not to trivialize the presence of benzopyrene and cadmium in food products, but the absence of details about the levels of the ingredients and how they found their way into squid and sesame oil makes it impossible to have a fully informed opinion on the subject.
However, what is known is that Walmart’s presence in China along with that of other Western retailers has helped China make tremendous strides in food safety. These retailers brought global food safety best practices, cold chain compliance and germ-killing handling processes to a nation where many people still buy food in filthy wet markets where purveyors operate outside the regulatory environment.
In fact, it is possible to find wet markets filled with live chickens and unrefrigerated meats within blocks of some Walmart stores. Chinese consumers aspire to buy their food at such modern grocery stores as Walmart because they are clean and there is a perception that the products are safe. Reports of contaminated goods in stores aren’t good for the company’s reputation, but in China, as in the United States, regulators often look to make an example of industry leaders who employ best practices that other operators should emulate.