Five restaurants are being prosecuted while 30 others, ranging from Shanghai dumpling joints to noodle shops in southwestern Chongqing, are under investigation, said the China Food and Drug Administration.
Cases of cooks sprinkling ground poppy powder, which contains low amounts of opiates like morphine and codeine, in soup and seafood are not new in China, though it is unclear whether they can effectively hook a customer or deliver a noticeable buzz.
Shaanxi provincial police busted a noodle seller in 2014 after being tipped off by a failed drug test. Seven restaurants were closed in Ningxia province in 2012 for using the additive and Guizhou province shut down 215 restaurants in 2004.
Hu Ling, general manager of Hu Da, a chain with several adjacent locations on the raucous Beijing nightlife strip known as “Ghost Street,” confirmed the firm was under investigation, saying that it may have unknowingly sourced seasoning containing opiates. She declined further comment.
Despite pledges from the government to improve enforcement, Chinese consumers perennially face high-profile food scares.
The country’s food safety problems spilled beyond its borders in 2014 when a Shanghai-based supplier to companies including KFC, Starbucks, and MacDonald’s was found selling unsanitary and expired chicken meat.