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Dubious Noodles on Shelves

Glass noodles are still being sold in Shanghai's supermarkets nearly a week after they were banned in Beijing and Hong Kong over fears some brands contain poisonous chemicals.

Most brands of the noodles, which are made from bean starch and known locally as "xifen," are produced in the city of Longkou in Shandong Province, which is considered the hometown of Chinese bean pasta.

"We haven't received any notice from the Ministry of Public Health to stop the sales yet, but we'll launch spot checks on products sold in local markets soon," said Gu Zhenhua, a spokesman for the Shanghai Health Supervision Agency.

If any quality problems are found, the agency will take immediate action to remove all the blacklisted noodles, Gu added.

Glass noodles made in Longkou are famous for their springy quality and transparency, which make them a popular dish for most Chinese families.

The noodles can be cooked with vegetables to make soups or mixed with seasonings to create noodle salads.

Earlier this week, however, six glass noodle manufacturers in Longkou were found using corn starch instead of bean starch in their noodles to reduce costs.

To make the corn starch noodles transparent, some fly-by-night manufacturers added a whitener - a chemical substance containing high levels of lead.

The substance can cause cancer, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

Shandong Province has shut down six illegal manufacturers and destroyed 20 tons of poisonous glass noodles.

Another 18 tons of noodles were sealed pending inspection, officials said.

Beijing and Hong Kong removed all glass noodles from their supermarkets immediately after the issue was exposed on May 2.

"The news is really scary," said Liu Biqing, a local housewife, adding that she will no longer buy any glass noodles for her family, no matter what brands they are.

Others said they aren't too worried about the products sold in local supermarkets.

"Since no blacklisted glass noodles are found in Shanghai market, we don't need to worry about that much. People should eat what they want as usual," said Sun Yimin, a local office worker.

(eastday.com May 8, 2004)

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