Up to 50 factories are being investigated by the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), after Chinese media reportedly uncovered the operation near the city of Tianjin, northern mainland China.
The factories were using ingredients unfit for human consumption – including industrial salt – in seasonings, including soy sauce and vinegar, claimed Beijing News.
The products had been packaged as brands such as Nestlé and Knorr.
A Nestlé spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk that it condemned counterfeiting of its food and beverage products.
“We take reports of potential counterfeiting in China, including Nestlé products and brands, very seriously,” said the spokesman.
“Nestlé China is working closely with the authorities to identify and take action against counterfeiters in order to protect consumers. Our experts are helping the authorities distinguish authentic Nestlé products from counterfeits.”
The CFDA said in a statement on its website that it would tackle the problem of fake food seasoning production and present the results of its investigation to the public in a “timely fashion”.
Local police and reporters visited the factories last week, after receiving a tip-off from a whistleblower.
Operating unchecked for 10 years
Beijing News’s report claimed that the “fake food seasoning manufacturing hub” had been operating unchecked for the past 10 years.
Pictures and videos from the sites showed products being made in dirty sheds using home-made equipment, such as plastic drums and garden hoses.
Workers were found using recycled by-products from other food manufacturers, and using large quantities of highly regulated ingredients like the artificial sweetener sodium cyclamate.
The products are thought to have been sold by lower level wholesalers for consumption in restaurants and smaller supermarkets. There have been no reports that any of the products had been exported to the UK.
Meanwhile, the first direct freight train from China to the UK has arrived in Barking, east London, after starting its journey on New Year’s Day. The Chinese government has dubbed the route “the new silk road”.
Chinese fake food crackdown – at a glance
- Up to 50 factories in Tianjin
- Gone unchecked for 10 years, according to Beijing News
- Produced fake seasonings and sauces, some branded as Nestlé and Knorr
- More than 200 law enforcement officials dispatched
- Seven people have been detained