IKEA's most recent food scare sent mixed signals to already troubled Chinese consumers on Wednesday (March 6) after batches of the Swedish furniture chain's chocolate almond cakes were confiscated by Chinese authorities in Shanghai.
Chinese official news agency Xinhua said that the local Shanghai quarantine bureau destroyed nearly two tons of IKEA's imported chocolate almond cakes on Tuesday (March 5), saying they had found high levels of bacteria.
The scare comes just after IKEA stopped nearly all sales of meatballs at its store cafeterias across Europe and in parts of Asia after tests in the Czech Republic showed some contained horsemeat.
IKEA stores that Reuters visited Wednesday (March 6), however, were still selling versions of the popular almond cakes.
In Shanghai, consumers could still be seen eating varieties of the almond cakes within the local IKEA chain's food court, although for customers such as 18 year-old college student Gao Ying, to hear that a renowned brand such as IKEA was experiencing food safety problems was alarming.
"It's unbelievable when I heard this news reporting (IKEA food) contains fecal bacteria in their cakes. It's unimaginable that such a big name brand would offer food with fecal bacteria," said Ying.
Kentucky Fried Chicken's highly publicized food safety scandal when chemical residue was found in a small portion of its chicken supply badly hurt its reputation in China where Western brands are often regarded as safer and higher quality than their Chinese peers.
"We rarely take our child to eat KFC now due to its recent scandal, but IKEA now has a similar problem as well. We have already been so cautious that whenever we go out we bring our own food for my child since he was little. My child started to eat IKEA food by the time he was getting bigger. We must be more cautious after hearing that IKEA now has the same problem (as KFC)," said Beijing resident and IKEA shopper Sun Wei.
Designer Ji Xianghao, who often goes for lunch at IKEA in Beijing, said she was depressed by to hear that IKEA, a big name brand from a country with higher food health standards, could violate China's own standards.
"Now food safety standards in China have been raised so it's normal to see some food imported from Western countries have some problems. In addition to this, food safety standards in Western countries are already high, but they a still have horsemeat scandal in Europe. So I still felt very depressed and a bit shocked when I heard of IKEA's cake problem," said Ji.
Xinhua reported that IKEA announced on Tuesday (March 5) that it had launched an investigation into finding the source of the bacteria detected in its cakes.
China has struggled to rein in health violations in the unruly and vast food sector despite harsh punishments and repeated vows to deal with the problem.
The country is notorious for its food safety woes, with regular news reports of fake cooking oil, tainted milk and even watermelons that explode from absorbing too much fertilizer.