Food has historically been at the core of Chinese culture, although food safety is a modern problem that has plagued the country in recent years. Peace of mind among diners over how safe their food is can be difficult to grasp, especially for urban dwellers who have less time to cook at home and must resort to dining out more. As one of the world’s leading food companies, multinational firm Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) has made it their goal to restore confidence in food safety by pursuing quality and all costs.
Knowing the keys
From being grown in the field, prepared in the kitchen and finally served at the table, food undergoes rigorous processes before being at the end of diners’ cutlery. China’s catering industry has ridden a boom over recent years, with statistics from this year’s Catering Industry Blue Book released by the China Cuisine Association showing the sector raked in 2 trillion yuan ($ 314.4 billion) in revenue. By 2015, China’s catering industry is expected to generate 3.7 trillion yuan, according to the country’s Ministry of Commerce.
While the growth of the industry is undeniable, the surge of workers entering the sector highlights the importance of providing them with proper training in food safety and hygiene – a critical process UFS has made its mission to improve.
In order to ensure high food safety standards are adhered to in the catering industry, UFS teamed up with the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) on June 19 to jointly launch the 2012 Food Safety Training Program for Catering Enterprises in Beijing to coincide with National Food Safety Day. Staff from more than 200 catering enterprises attended the training program, with UFS outlining key issues throughout the four-hour session.
Li Tong, an executive chef with UFS, explained how the session revolved around five major aspects that require attention to ensure food safety. “Specifically, these are ‘man,’ ‘equipment,’ ‘materials,’ ‘method’ and ‘premises,’” said Li. “‘Man’ refers to staff out the back in the kitchen, and ensuring they are healthy and aware of the importance of hygiene before cooking. ‘Equipment’ refers to the cooking utensils and kitchenware. All require thorough disinfection and proper use to avoid bacteria. ‘Materials’ refer to being able to detect pesticides, antibiotics and other harmful chemicals.”
Li went on to explain that ‘method’ refers to chefs and other kitchen staff following correct procedures in preparation of different foods, stressing it was vital to prevent food contracting salmonella and other germs. “Take frozen chicken, for example. It should be stored in a safe defrosting part of a fridge rather than being exposed at room temperature, otherwise it will become a hotbed for germs,” Li emphasized. Finally, ‘premises’ refers to having a “clean place, far from contaminated sources,” the executive chef added.
Sense of responsibility
China’s catering industry has rapidly transformed over recent years from being predominantly individual restaurants to chains of eateries. Food suppliers have also gradually diversified, although all businesses need to pursue a common goal in the form of having a safer kitchen.
Ensuring food safety among caterers, restaurants and food suppliers is a complex task that requires coordinated efforts from enterprises and authorities, according to Xu Jinghe, director of the SFDA’s Food Security Supervision Department. “A healthy structure to uphold food safety should be established based on administration from the government, self-regulation within the catering industry, a sense of responsibility among individual enterprises and participation from wider society,” Xu said.
It is this “sense of responsibility” that motivated UFS to help spearhead the training program for food safety among caterers earlier this month, said Star Chen, vice president of UFS China.
“We understand the real situation and demands of kitchens and fully realize the challenges and concerns that managers and chefs are faced with. We just hope we can share the most practical food security knowledge with our Chinese peers.”
UFS’ reputation for helping improve food safety in China one kitchen at a time has been built through years of efforts. Last year it organized training sessions in the cities of Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou, all of which were well-received by participants.
“UFS has witnessed the attentiveness and concerns from catering industry insiders on food safety issues, and their support of our efforts have helped strengthen our confidence,” said Chen. “We were delighted to cooperate with the SFDA again this year. In order to further promote food safety, we have also printed free brochures and posters and issued them in 28 cities across China.” The company has also uploaded videos of training sessions on its website (www.unileverfoodsolutions.com.cn) so more enterprises can tap into vital food safety knowledge.
Reputation of trust
Most people will be familiar with UFS through its reputable products worldwide that include Lipton tea, Skippy peanut butter, Knorr soup mixes and condiments and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Its decades of supplying quality food with an emphasis on safety has made it an authority in training businesses ranging from multinational catering companies to small, privately owned restaurants.
UFS remains focused on creating new products by following its strict standards and cutting-edge technology to achieve safety and quality, Chen said.
“Moreover, we have set up a stringent supply system. Despite our suppliers complying with state standards, we also record them so as we can more closely track safety and quality of food from its source,” Chen said.
China is one of UFS’ most important markets, with last year seeing the company achieve its most rapid growth rate in the country compared to other markets.
“Over the past 20 years we have been researching Chinese food culture in depth and trying to obtain the marrow of Chinese cuisine as well as inspire chefs’ creativity and passion.
In addition, we have kept investing in the Chinese market and have established four research kitchens to provide food solutions for different styles of cooking.
“Furthermore, we are now cooperating with chef training institutes to advance comprehensive skills. All of these endeavors illustrate our confidence in the Chinese market,” said Chen.