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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Tons of Bad Food Seized This Year

Itar-TassWomen selling vegetables and nuts on a sidewalk near Belorussky Station.
The corner food store should be safe, but outdoor markets are hit and miss. Sidewalk vendors and shashlik stands are better avoided.

That's the advice that food inspectors are offering after confiscating nearly 3 tons of contaminated food, including 356 kilograms of radioactive berries and mushrooms, in Moscow during the first half of this year.

Of the berries, "210 kilograms of blueberries were seized within a span of 10 days alone in July," said Vladimir Burkov, the deputy director of the city's veterinary services, Interfax reported.

Most of the radioactive produce came from Belarus and Ukraine, two countries that were heavily polluted by the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, Burkov said. But radioactive food also was traced to the regions of Volgograd, Arkhangelsk and Tambovsk, he said.

More than 100 different disease-causing toxins have been identified in the remaining 2.5 tons of food that failed to pass health quality tests, he told reporters late last month, RIA-Novosti reported.

The food most at risk for contamination was imported meat. "More than 65 percent of food products -- primarily meat and animal products -- still come from abroad. Agents of infectious diseases and hormones are found more often in imports than in domestic products," he said.

In addition to meat products, slightly more than 10 tons of vegetables were found to contain high levels of nitrates, Interfax reported.

In all, more contaminated food has been seized in the first six months of this year than all of last year, Burkov said. A total of 1.7 tons of food was confiscated and destroyed in 2004.

"We are doing everything to ensure that such products do not make it to the tables of Muscovites," Burkov said.

To isolate harmful food, inspectors from 82 municipal laboratories armed with spectroscopes and radiation detectors comb the city's 69 open-air markets. Once the labratories identify careless suppliers, cases are handed over to the Moscow police's economic crime division or to customs units of the Federal Security Service for further investigation and prosecution.

Police spokesman Filip Zolotnitsky said 30 criminal cases had been opened this year. FSB customs officials could not be reached for comment.

In addition to markets, inspectors check local butcheries and food and dairy processing plants, said Lyudmila Kovshova, a spokeswoman for the city veterinary service, which carries out food inspection.

"Inspectors check the quality of all the food in the city's open-air markets and grocery stores to make sure that everything meets health standards," she said. "All offending products are seized and destroyed."

However, while the inspectors check the city's markets on a regular basis, they do not regulate many of the independent fruit and vegetable stands that often come and go on sidewalks, she said.

"Muscovites must be particularly wary of buying food at independent outdoor stands near the metro or on sidewalks," she said. "The food there is often unregulated and can be quite dangerous.

"As far as restaurants are concerned, most of those that are concerned with their reputations among customers hire their own inspectors or doctors to monitor their food," Kovshova said.

However, sidewalk stands, especially those serving shashlik and shwarma, often do not comply with health standards and are best avoided, she said.

"Although the food seized was just a fraction of all the food sold in Moscow in the last six months, it is essential to frequent only those places whose products are constantly monitored by inspectors," Kovshova said.

Customers who want to make sure a retailer's food has been checked may ask to see its veterinary service inspection documents or, if at an outdoor market, ask to consult with the on-duty veterinary service laboratory, Kovshova said.