Two Pizza Hut shops in Beijing investigated for food scandal
Published: Jul 20, 2022 05:50 PM
The Pizza Hut Hexie Square Restautrant, one of two Pizza Hut restaurants with food safety problems, in Beijing's Fengtai District. Source: The Beijing News

The Pizza Hut Hexie Square Restautrant, one of two Pizza Hut restaurants with food safety problems, in Beijing's Fengtai District. Source: The Beijing News

Two branches of the well-known chain brand Pizza Hut in Beijing were placed under investigation for a food scandal that involved poor sanitation on Wednesday, after an undercover media investigation reported that the shops had sold expired food and reused cooking oil for 10 days. 

This is not the first time that Pizza Hut has been caught in food scandal. In March of this year, one of its outlets in Beijing was punished by the local market supervision bureau after some ingredients it used were found to exceed their shelf lives, which further sparked public outrage over the big brand's food safety problem.

Officers from the market supervision bureaus of Fengtai and Haidian districts in Beijing visited the two shops on Wednesday, after an investigation report from The Beijing News made a splash on Chinese social media. The two branches have been shut for rectification.

The Beijing News said its reporters received multiple tip-offs from Pizza Hut employees over its food safety problems since last year. The Beijing News reporters then applied for jobs at the two shops to conduct an undercover investigation from late June to early July.

According to the investigation, two Pizza Hut restaurants in Beijing - Hexie Square in Fengtai and Weigongcun in Haidian - had various food safety problems. 

While working, the reporters found that tampering with labels on food expiration dates was something that happened daily. As the "secret work" was carried out by the management staff of the restaurant, it was difficult for ordinary employees to intervene in any way.

Whether it was steak, lobster or sausage pizza toppings, rice and noodles for fried rice and pasta, or even tea and lemons for drinks, none of them were discarded at the prescribed time. These ingredients were still served to customers after their expiration date labels were changed.

"We were inspected just a few days ago, so there won't be any more inspections these days," a veteran employee told the undercover reporters, saying that changing food expiration labels is a tacit rule in the restaurant.

In addition, despite the fact that Pizza Hut employees in Beijing's restaurants use a simple oil gauge to check the quality of cooking oil and they are required to check the cooking oil every day and replace it if there is any abnormality, the undercover investigation found the oil was used for cooking in the kitchen for nearly a week, until the originally clear oil turned an almost ink-like color.

Even when the detected value of the oil was found to be above the limit, the restaurant manager ignored it and asked the staff members to simply filter the oil and use it again. It wasn't until the oil had been used for a full 10 days that the restaurant management would give the order to replace the oil.

The reporter then took a sample of the oil used in Pizza Hut's Hexie Square restaurant and sent it to a food testing agency. After testing, the acid value of these oils nearly doubled to 9.6 mg/g, while the state stipulates that the acid value of edible oils cannot exceed 5 mg/g.

Fengtai Market Supervision Bureau found that the Pizza Hut Hexie Square restaurant has illegally used expired food and has poor sanitation. The market supervision bureau has organized a third-party testing company to conduct spot tests on cooking oil, sausage, lobster and other ingredients. 

The restaurant's illegal gains were confiscated and it was fined 50,000 yuan ($7,397) in March by the district's market supervision administration for using expired food.

Pizza Hut opened its first restaurant in China's capital city of Beijing in 1990. By the end of March 2022, Pizza Hut had opened more than 2,600 restaurants in more than 600 cities in the Chinese mainland.
Pizza Hut and another popular fast-food chain brand, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), are owned by Yum China Holdings, which was spun off from what was once part of the US-based fast-food corporation Yum! Brands in 2016. The corporation states on its website that "food safety and quality are Yum China's top priority."

Yum China's food safety regulations are actually very detailed and strict, a management staffer who left the company recently told The Beijing News. "However, the company will put pressure on restaurant managers in terms of profit and cost, and these managers can only choose to take risks in order to control losses and maximize profit."

The scandal again sounded an alarm to the country's food safety supervision, as experts pointed out that although China's food safety law has specific rules on raw materials acquisition, transportation, dust prevention, processing and so on, especially for some high-end restaurant chains, it does not mean that the rules could be implemented on the ground.

The government carries out supervision of all enterprises equally, and any administrative or even criminal penalties against enterprises will be based on the investigation results, Liu Junhai, a law professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The formulation and implementation of laws and regulations on food safety are first and foremost intended to protect the rights and interests of consumers, Liu said, adding that supervision also helps companies improve their shortcomings in production and business operation, thereby gaining sustainable and healthy development and the trust of consumers.

Consumers' distrust of some food enterprises stems from information asymmetry, which means that it is difficult for consumers to discover food safety loopholes themselves, observers say.

Liu said that it was important to ensure the transparency and normalization of food safety information disclosure, which is conducive to the public's supervision and restraint on various food safety issues.

The food safety situation has been improving in recent years with supervision and law enforcement having become more and more strict, and consumers' awareness of safeguarding their rights having been constantly enhanced. Building a solid food safety system relies on enterprises' integrity and self-discipline, as well as public strict supervision, analysts said.