Just when you think you’ve probably heard the worst of food scandals, news of gel-injected Tiger Prawns and Co. jumps out of the monitor right at you. This time a Facebook share from a friend prompted me to dig into this.
In Vietnam – 5th as a world-wide supplier of shrimps and prawns – unscrupulous sellers have resorted to this practice to increase the weight by 15% to 20% per kilo. This means more cash in the pocket and an edge against the competition. It is also a clear case of food fraud.
By now you are wondering what they are injecting them with, right? It is a mix of agar-agar (an algae based gelatin) glucose and a substance called CMC. The woman in the video defends the practice, blaming the competitive pressure, but get this: she hasn’t a clue what CMC is and obviously isn’t concerned either.
Digging much deeper into this latest sea food scandal I found that CMC is carboxymethyl cellulose, also known as cellulose gum or sodium salt, sourced mainly from softwood pulp or cotton lint. It is generally considered to be hypoallergenic. Its E number is E466 and is permitted in food primarily as a non-toxic viscosity thickener or modifier.
It also stabilizes emulsions in many products such as ice cream and also in many non-food products, such as toothpaste, some types of laxatives, water-based paints, detergents, various paper products and even as a textile sizing. It is used primarily because it has high viscosity, is nontoxic, and as the major source fiber is either softwood pulp or cotton lint.
In view of China’s reputation for a serious lack of concern for food hygiene or human health in general for that matter, it was encouraging to read in an English version of a Chinese newspaper that the ‘food and safety watchdog’ ( ‘oh, wow’ I thought, ‘China actually has a food and safety department?’) in a Chinese province has vowed to crack down on this practice. It seems China frowns on this practice. However, their view is that although the gel is edible, where the illegal injections are carried out may be less than hygienic. Read that ‘filthy’.
It seems this problem keeps popping up now and again since 2005.
So it looks to be an occasional illegal localized problem in some provinces of China and not their policy (hmmm, I wonder). However, this is not controlled in Vietnam and is OUR problem.
Further, agar is not always used. Another type of gelatin used in the injection mass is sourced from animal skins and bones. However, there is an even cheaper, industrial version of this gel that greed may tempt to use. It contains heavy metals, damages the kidneys, liver and is carcinogenic and that is a major concern.
I don’t know about you, but I just want real, unadulterated food.
If I can’t find local prawns, then I don’t mind buying from South American suppliers. But from Asia, nope. Not knowingly and this article is another reason why.
Do you know the country of origin of your shrimps and prawns?
- China news: Online reports prompt crackdown on gelatin-injected shrimp
- Carboxymethyl Cellulose
- In China, the Curious Case of the Gel-Injected Shrimp
- New cases of gel-injected shrimp in China raise concern