A woman shops for milk at a supermarket in Taipei. (Photo/Teng Po-jen)
Officials and inspectors from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) went to a ranch in Taoyuan county in northern Taiwan on Tuesday to inspect fresh milk production as it kicked off a general nationwide inspection of food products around the country.
FDA officials said the first round of inspections will target fresh milk and check on the milk produced at 20 factories of 17 dairy companies.
The results of the checks will be made public by the end of December.
Chiang Yu-mei, the FDA's deputy director-general, said Tuesday's inspection of Kuang Chuan Dairy focused on checking whether the major milk producer's management practices comply with regulations and health standards.
Inspectors also carefully examined the company's assembly lines, warehouses and laboratory and will also test Kuang Chuan products for traces of veterinary drugs and other residual antibiotics, Chiang said.
The team brought back five milk samples and is expected to complete its report within a week. Once the checks on fresh milk are completed, the FDA will shift its focus to foods consumed ahead of the Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 31, as well as egg pancakes, soy sauce, vegetables and fruits, Chiang said.
Milk was a top priority after Chinese-language Business Weekly published a story on Nov. 21 claiming that tests it conducted on milk samples found residues of veterinary drugs, plasticizers, contraceptives and even tranquilizers, triggering a food scare.
In the following days, the government conducted a series of tests that failed to find any of the contaminants claimed by the magazine and called into question the test methods Business Weekly used.
Coming under increasing pressure, the magazine finally apologized a week later for inciting the food safety scare and said its report could have been more comprehensive. But the turmoil it created combined with lingering effects of other food safety scandals has led to losses of sales among food companies, including Kuang Chuan, which said its sales have fallen by around 20% in recent months.
The company said it takes its image seriously and hopes that the government checks will help restore consumer confidence.
Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said last month that a task force will launch a year-long food inspection covering edible oils, soy sauce, fresh milk, tea, honey, rice, traditional Lunar New Year's dishes, eggs, regional delicacies, meatless products, bread, juices and organic products.
Both President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Jiang Yi-huah have vowed to safeguard food safety in Taiwan through effective management and heavy penalties in the wake of a series of food safety scandals.