Two of China’s most popular congee chain restaurants have apologised following scandals involving reusing leftover food and other unhygienic practices.
Kitchen staff at a Man Ling chain restaurant, which has over 1,000 stores around the country and numerous fans including Taiwanese television host Dee Hsu, were caught using leftover food to cook congee and handling food without washing their hands.
A staff worker was seen picking pork ribs out of a pot of leftover soup and used them to cook Chinese yam and meat congee for other customers, footage aired on a local TV station revealed.
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“Yeah, it’s leftover. It’s ok to cook it again,” another worker answered when inquired by the undercover reporter whether there would be a food safety issue.
The camera also caught kitchen staff handling cooked food with dirty hands multiple times.
The store, located in the southeastern city of Fuzhou, was shut down after an undercover investigation by Fujian Television revealed a series of sanitation problems, the restaurant said in a statement earlier this week.
Sanmi Congee, which is also a famous chain restaurant with over 1,100 stores around the nation was also investigated and exposed for hiring people without a health certificate and similar unsanitary practices at one of its stores in the city.
Man Ling apologised for “disappointing” its customers, and said it is launching a food safety and hygiene inspection in all its stores, it said on Monday after the Fuzhou store was exposed in a program dedicated to Consumer Rights’ Day.
The store has also been removed from food ordering apps, it said.
Following Man Ling, Sanmi issued an apology on Tuesday, admitting the existence of “hygiene and safety hazards”. It has also closed the store and removed it from online food ordering apps.
Both brands, owned by separate companies based in Shanghai, have thrived in recent years as their cheap, “healthy” food gained popularity amid China’s food delivery industry boom.
With most of their business coming from third-party food ordering platforms, both restaurants were among the top three congee restaurants in China at a catering industry summit last year.
Man Ling sells a total of over 180 million bowls of congee yearly, according to a food ordering data analysis app named Food Info.
It became a hot topic on Chinese social media in 2019 when Taiwanese host and actress Dee Hsu openly praised it on Weibo.
“When I work in Beijing or Shanghai, I always order from Man Ling congee restaurant…It’s really so tasty!” she wrote.