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Chinese city finds cancer-causing fungi in food

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese food safety regulators in the southern city of Shenzhen have found carcinogenic mildew in peanuts and cooking oil, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The cancer-causing substance, called aflatoxin, triggered public concern this week after milk giant Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd said last weekend its Sichuan plant had destroyed products found by a government quality watchdog to contain it.

Aflatoxin occurs naturally in the environment and is produced by certain common types of fungi. It can cause severe liver damage, including liver cancer.

Xinhua reported that the Shenzhen market supervision bureau had said it found up to 4.3 times of the permitted level of aflatoxin in peanuts sold in two supermarkets and one frozen food store, and up to four times the allowed level of aflatoxin in cooking oil in four restaurants.

Fungi and the aflatoxin they produce can infect crops before harvest or during harvesting and storage. The tainted crops then enter the foodchain either directly, or indirectly via animal feed.

On Thursday, food safety officials recalled cooking oil produced by three companies in the southern Guangdong province because they may contain excessive levels of aflatoxin.

These incidents are the latest in a string of safety scandals to hit China's food industry in recent years.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 became ill in China from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added to low-quality or diluted milk to give misleadingly high protein readings.

(Reporting by Melanie Lee)

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