One of the challenges for all of us living in Shanghai is the fact that food production standards are notoriously unregulated, meaning that we can't trust the food and water we consume to be safe. As China lacks independent testing facilities and transparent regulation of food production,  there is little reliable data about food- and water safety.
Fortunately and perhaps surprisingly, acute food poisoning  has a relatively low incidence in Shanghai, mainly due to government monitoring of  the hygiene standards in restaurants, markets and supermarkets. Agricultural production is a different matter however being far less well-regulated, with much of the soil in China  being contaminated by heavy metals. This leads to widely varying amounts of pesticides and other toxic substances present in our food depending on the kind and origin of the product. While pesticides in food may not have acute effects, they are stored in the body and may cause problems with health after years of intake. In particular the effects of pesticide mixtures cannot be predicted.


Which contaminants do we find in food/water and what do they do to our body?

  • POPs (persistent organic pollutants) -  POPs are highly stable chemicals which accumulate in food chains for long periods of time, most notably pesticides, flame retardants and plasticizers. Long-term consumption may result in cancer, high blood pressure, asthma, Parkinson´s like diseases, infertility, shortened lactation, endometriosis, genital malformation, peripheral nerve damage, and dysfunctional immune systems
  • Heavy metals - Lead, cadmium, mercury, zinc and arsenic are some of the heavy metals found in food. They are stored in the body and remain there for long periods of time and may predispose to later problems such as deficits in attention, memory, learning and IQ, "soft" bones and kidney damage
  • Microbes - processing, storage, transport and packaging of food needs high hygienic standards, otherwise contamination by a variety of microbes is possible. Tap water and water from dispensers can also be a source of unwanted bacterial or other types of contamination
  • Medication/antibiotics - meat, dairy products and eggs often contain residues of antibiotic medication which are routinely used (and overused) in modern animal husbandry and farming practices. Long term intake may predispose to hormone system dysfunctions and antibiotic resistance

Where do the contaminants come from?

  • Agriculture - lacking proper education in farming practices, farmers in China often use 3-4 times more fertilizers and pesticides than necessary (in average 10 kg/ha, compared to 2.3 kg/ha in Germany) and apply them too often and too close to harvest. Some of the chemicals used are banned or restricted in other countries.
  • Industrial processes - many harmful substances such as dioxins and furans are produced unintentionally, for example during production of paper and plastics or by burning processes. They migrate into the air, water and soil and thus enter the food chain 
  • Traffic - cars are a major source of toxic gases and particles, especially when they lack modern filters
  • Mining - during mining heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and others are released into the environment and enter the soil, waterways and ultimately the ground water
  • Waste - private households and industry all produce waste which contains toxic material such as batteries, disinfectants and packaging. In addition many pollutants are produced after burning waste, particularly waste containing plastics, solvents and petroleum products


  • Always wash your vegetables/fruits with special detergents (baby bottle wash is a good safe choice) as pesticides and most other contaminants are lipid soluble and can't be removed by water alone. Note: however, many pesticides are systemic, which means they enter the plants and can`t be washed off - see below for a list of suspect foods
  • A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals prevents your body from storing high amounts of heavy metals so make sure your kids eat enough calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins. When the calcium level is low, lead is used in bone cells instead!
  • Certain foods are known to absorb larger amounts of pesticides than others. You can lower your pesticide intake by minimizing consumption of the most contaminated vegetables/fruits (see list below)
  • If you eat certain food items very often, arrange for them to be scanned for the most common contaminants
  • Don´t use tap water for cooking and prolonged bathing
  • Clean your water dispenser regularly
  • Some buildings provide an extra tap for drinking water, but it´s not always safe! To be sure, get it tested for harmful substances and in case of contamination we can help you choose the right water filter
  • If you feel sick often and/or have digestion problems, you should see your doctor as soon as possible, as problems such as bacteria in your drinking water or on kitchen surfaces, food intolerances or food poisoning may be causing the illness


Usually safe (green) and most likely to be contaminated (red) food items