Weaknesses in China’s cold chain are undermining its already weak food safety standards, a senior industry executive has warned.

Joaquin Pelaez, VP with responsibility for supply chain management at Yum Brands’ Chinese arm, said the absence of a strong national cold chain is an obstacle to improving food safety in the country.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing hosted by the Global Food Safety Initiative, Pelaez said small suppliers often deliver fresh produce out of standard vans or even cars, unchilled to manufacturers, retailers and markets.

Palaez said China has very good food safety laws on paper but insisted a lack public spending on scientific oversight and employing food inspectors means in reality “frankly many foods are not regulated”.

China has 500,000 food companies and 80% of them have fewer than ten employees, Pelaez said. He noted the top ten suppliers of chicken in China produce 10% of the national volume of the meat for manufacturers, retailers and foodservice chains. In the US, 80% of US chicken is produced by the top ten suppliers. “In pork it’s even more difficult,” he said. 

Pelaez argued the atomised nature of the supply chain in China meant the Government needs to spend more on the oversight of its food safety laws to improve hygiene in its supply chain to manufacturers, retailers and foodservice chains.

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Above all, he said there is a lack of a food safety culture across China. “Checks and balances are needed. Aside from universal audits you need to improve capacity among suppliers. I find suppliers have their HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points) certificates on the wall but I tour the factories and ask where are your control points, where are your documents…they often don’t have them and HACCP is based on a system of control points.”