Bad Eggs: Another Fake-Food Scandal Rocks China

In the latest food scandal to emerge in China, customers are being duped by fake eggs made out of resin, starch and pigments.

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Image: A man smokes a cigarette at an egg stall in Beijing, China, on Dec. 10, 2008.
Bloomberg / Getty Images

An egg stall in Beijing

From tainted baby formula to exploding watermelons, China has seen its share of food-safety problems. But food forgery in the world’s most populous country may have recently hit another high — or, rather, another low: fake chicken eggs.

On Sunday, a woman who gave her name as Ms. Tian was shopping at a vegetable market in Luoyang, in central China’s Henan province, when she noticed a van selling eggs for about 6¢ cheaper than they were going for in supermarkets, the Guangming Daily reported. Assuming that the eggs were from a countryside seller not aware of city prices, she took her chances and bought 2.5 kg of the bargain eggs — which turned out to be fakes.

Citing an anonymous source, the paper outlined how the fakes were made: prepare a mould, then mix the right amounts of resin, starch, coagulant and pigments to make egg white. Sodium alginate, extracted from brown algae, gives the egg white the wanted viscosity. Then add the fake egg yolk, a different mix of resin and pigments. Once the proper shape is achieved, an amalgamate of paraffin wax, gypsum powder and calcium carbonate makes for a credible shell.

The newspaper asked Yi Junpeng, assistant professor for biological engineering at Henan University of Science and Technology, for advice on how to identify fake eggs at market stalls. Yi warned of eggs that are too perfectly shaped and smooth. Real eggs have a faint smell, he said, which fake eggs lack. Tapping a fake egg makes a hollower sound than a real egg. Once cracked open, egg white and yolk would quickly mix.

Fake eggs first appeared in the mid-’90s and production spread all over China, the state news agency Xinhua reported back in 2005. At the time, the production cost of a fake egg was half of its real equivalent. With the proper equipment and materials, one person could produce 1,500 fake eggs per day, another Xinhua report quoted a fake-egg producer’s website as saying.

China has seen its share of non-egg-related food scares, including cases of pork colored to be sold as beef, pork that glowed blue, recycled steamed buns and tofu fermented with sewage. Last year a scandal involving the resale of “gutter oil” — used cooking oil thrown out by restaurants or scooped from sewers and peddled to unsuspecting customers — turned stomachs worldwide. In 2008, a massive tainted-milk scandal killed four infants and sickened thousands of children across the country.

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