Food Safety Authorities of Mainland China Probe into “Gel-filled Shrimps” Issue


  The Guangdong Food and Drug Administration has mobilized the food and drug regulatory authorities of Guangzhou city and Panyu district for a joint investigation into reports by residents that they had bought suspected gel-filled shrimps from the local market. Inspection was carried out in concerned premises and samples of shrimps taken for testing, whose results revealed that the added substance in shrimps was “agar”. According to the initial analysis of the authorities, sellers added the transparent and gel-like agar to the frozen shrimps which they sold. They used it to glue the body and head of a shrimp together, making its body plumper to appear more appealing to consumers. The food and drug regulatory authorities of Guangzhou city and Panyu district have already probed into the case. They are tracing the source of the “agar-filled” frozen shrimps and investigating during which food-handling process that agar is added.


  News media covered cases of shrimps in Mainland China found injected with gelatin over the past years. This added substance was a protein extracted from the bones, skin, tendons and ligaments of animals. In the current case, agar (also known as agar-agar) which is a jelly-like substance obtained from algae is detected in shrimps. Both of these substances are food additives used in food products like candies, gelatin food and desserts. According to the safety assessment on food-grade “gelatin” and “agar” conducted by The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/ World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), these two additives are of very low toxicity and not hazardous to human health in normal consumption.


  Though the added substance identified in the investigation of gel-filled shrimps in Mainland China is agar, the concerned sellers have engaged in misleading commercial practices. It is essential that the food sector is self-disciplined, abides by the law and ensures that the food products for sale are fit for human consumption. In Macao, all marine products for sale in the city must pass the inspection by IAM. As stipulated in the provisions of the “Food Safety Law”, improper use of food additives or addition of foreign substances in the production and operation of foodstuffs is disallowed. If the shrimps for sale show signs of abnormality, the sellers should stop selling them immediately and report the case to the IAM. So far, no abnormalities have been detected in shrimps for sale locally during the routine food surveillance conducted by the Food Safety Department of the IAM. The IAM continues to maintain close contact with concerned authorities of Mainland China through the established information exchange mechanism, which allows it to take timely actions and necessary follow-ups to ensure the safety of food supply to Macao.


  Upon purchase of shrimps, consumers have to check their body colour and avoid those with overly bloated head or body. Do not buy or consume shrimps with unusual organoleptic properties.


More relevant information:

  • Popular Science of Food Safety

Is that true about Gelatin-injected shrimps? (30 July 2015)