Food scandals and China seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. From 22 tons of fake beef seized by police in Xi’an province in 2013 to an American-owned company caught shilling expired meat to fast-food chains in China, food safety in the country has definitely been a concern.

But there is an even more horrifying expired-food scandal going down right now, according to the New York Times. A total of 100,000 tons of smuggled frozen meat has been seized across China—some with packing dates from the 1970s. (In contrast, that 2014 expired meat scandal is nothing, since that meat was only out of date by one month.)

A customs operation spanning 14 provinces seized chicken wings, beef, and pork that were valued up to 3 billion renminbi, or $483 million USD. So far, 20 people have been arrested.

chicken wings

Photo: Flickr/MissMessie

How Did This Happen?

The NYT quotes Chinese state news agency Xinhua as saying meat was shipped to Hong Kong, where it was then taken to Vietnam. That’s when traders would smuggle it back across the Chinese border without declaring it to customs officials. To keep costs down, meat was often smuggled in non-refrigerated trucks for trips lasting longer than 12 hours.

The Changsha Administration of Customs in Hunan Province discovered that a full one-third of the meat for sale at the city’s largest wholesale market was part of this illegal importation scheme. Changsha official Zhang Tao said, “It was too smelly! A truck full of it! I almost threw up when the door opened.”

But Wait, You Said It Was Frozenff

Screencapture via CNTV

Once the meat was transported, it was then refrozen (remember, freezing helps to mask strong smells—like that of rotten meat) and distributed with Chinese labels. The NYT found this interesting, since imported meats are usually more profitable than local Chinese meats.

Some Of This Rotten Meat Was Also Sold Online


If you follow the stock market at all, you’ve probably heard of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Taobao is an online shopping website owned by Alibaba where sellers can offer a wide range of goods, including meat. Some of the rotten meat in question was sold online.

The NYT interviewed Peter Cheung, who is director of the Food and Nutritional Science Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He said,

“Theoretically, China has strict food safety regulations, but execution is often the problem. I personally would not buy meat online.

If you speak Chinese, you can watch a video of CNTV news coverage here. In the meantime, we think we’re going to go grab an all-veg beet torta for lunch.

[via the New York Times, Grub Street]