Canadian frozen food company McCain Foods should restart production at its French fry factory in Harbin, China early this week, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported today (Monday), quoting Basil Hargrove, McCain’s chief executive officer for Asia.

The plant closed following an industrial accident that sent toxins spilling into the river from which Harbin derives its water supply.

Hargrove, who spearheads the McCain expansion in northeast China, said one regret is that the plant does not have its own well and depends on the Harbin system. That will change right away, he said.

The chemical spill left 3.8 million Harbin residents largely dependent on bottled water for at least five days.

McCain, the world’s largest producer of French fries, had just opened its plant in late October, ending six years of crop trials and false starts in searching for a suitable factory location. Then Harbin’s water supply was contaminated.

Hargrove said the incident had not lessened McCain’s enthusiasm for its Chinese factory. He sees it as part of the learning curve in a long-term venture aimed at seizing a bigger share of the rapidly growing fast-food market in China.

But his advice to anyone contemplating a Chinese venture is: “Do your homework, be prepared and be prepared for surprises.”

The surprise came when an upriver petrochemical accident in mid-November sent benzene and other toxins into the Songhua River, which flows through Harbin.

The city’s water supply was restarted after five days, but McCain has delayed reopening its factory while it performs its own tests to make sure there is no contamination.

As of this past Thursday, there was no benzene in the water supply, but McCain wanted to make sure no residue of particles remained from the shutdown.

Hargrove said McCain would maintain frequent daily testing of the water for the short-term future.