Cablegate: Hotels in Guangzhou Face Food Safety Challenge

DE RUEHGZ #1056/01 2610902
R 180902Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Hotels in Guangzhou Face Food Safety Challenge

1. (U) SUMMARY: In order to meet international food safety
standards, foreign luxury hotels in Guangzhou import many of their
ingredients and supplies, and even perform their own testing. They
work diligently to raise the practices of vendors, employees, and
contractors to the quality levels that clients expect from
international hotels. The hotels follow Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Points (HACCP) guidelines originally established in the
United States and now observed internationally. END SUMMARY.

Hotels Pay High Costs to Assure Safety
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Food safety concerns have created challenges for foreign
luxury hotels in South China. Hotel managers at the Shangri-la,
Westin, and The Ritz-Carlton here in Guangzhou tell us that they
must assume more responsibility for food safety and quality than in
other parts of the world. When reports arise regarding the safety
of local goods, luxury hotels take few chances and import what they
need. Chefs at the hotels have full authority to make any purchases

3. (SBU) Francoise J. Cnockaert, General Manager of the Guangzhou
Ritz-Carlton (opening in November of 2007) expressed concern over
difficulties in confirming the origins and proper handling of meat,
poultry, and dairy products prior to arrival at the hotel. This was
echoed by the Westin Hotel's Chef Michael Poutawa, who told us that
his hotel imports almost all of its meat and shrimp from places with
higher safety standards like Australia, Brazil, and Hong Kong. Its
Oysters are brought in exclusively from New Zealand. He noted that
Inner Mongolia, which produces some organic products, is also a
source for certain goods. Poutawa also expressed concern about
local vegetables. The hotel uses separate containers for their
transport and special cleaning solutions to wash them.

4. (U) Some of the supplies needed to comply with international food
handling standards must also be imported. The hotels follow Hazard
Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines originally
established in the United States and now observed internationally.
In order to meet the standards, hotels in Guangzhou have to import
expensive special colored labels used to tag, date, and monitor
almost all food in the hotels. These special, hard-to-remove
stickers are placed on the vacuum sealed plastic bags. Removal of
the stickers damages the bag, making it difficult to change dates on
items without being detected.

The Lengths to Which They Go

5. (SBU) Many Guangzhou luxury hotels work diligently to reduce
risks from the local supply chain. The Ritz-Carlton plans to
formally conduct its own random food sampling, testing, and analysis
according to their individual corporate standards. The hotel
reportedly has an on-site laboratory where food will be tested for
bacterial growth. While none have yet gone as far as to inspect
their supplier's facilities, one hotel mentioned plans for doing so
in the future.

Sharing Information

6. (SBU) Until local standards rise, surviving in this market
requires informal collaboration and trust. Westin's Chef Poutawa
reports that he must leverage personal relationships with reputable
suppliers and other hotel managers to ensure quality and food safety
for his clients. In an environment where it is not feasible to know
completely the sanitation conditions or refrigeration history of all
of the food before delivery, managers must trust their suppliers to
a large degree. A strong network among hotels and restaurants also
helps identify unreliable suppliers. Purchasing managers maintain a
list of certified suppliers; if sub-par products are discovered, or
a patron becomes ill due to food contamination, word spreads
quickly, and the supplier is effectively blacklisted.

Competition Among Chefs Raises the Bar

7. (SBU) Despite the tight networks, Cnockaert, who has hotel
management experience in Jakarta, Seoul, and Osaka, commented that
competition among the hotel's acclaimed chefs contributes to high
standards and food safety. Each chef uses his or her own personal
judgment because the quality and safety of their cuisine is not just
business -- it's highly personal and one's reputation rests upon

Educating Vendors, Employees and Contractors

GUANGZHOU 00001056 002 OF 002

8. (SBU) The Westin's Poutawa told us he has had to educate
potential vendors and suppliers of meats, vegetables, or other food
products on proper handling, sanitation, and refrigeration. He
rejects shipments when his requirements aren't met. One hotel
required a particular vendor to purchase separate containers for
transporting the hotel's food and set cleaning standards for those
containers. Another hotel insisted that a vendor purchase
refrigerated vehicles.

9. (SBU) Hotel managers report many challenges in ensuring that
their own staff follows proper food safety practices. The
Shangri-La's Director of Marketing Jorgen Christensen, said staff
training is a major expense for the hotel both in direct costs and
employee hours. One hotel manager acknowledged that the failure of
staff to follow proper procedures had caused the hotel to receive a
significantly reduced score in a recent audit of its compliance with
HACCP standards. The manager mentioned that while the need for
improvement persists, he is confident that further training will be
effective in ensuring proper practices are followed.

10. (SBU) The Westin's Poutawa emphasized that the need for
vigilance on standards extended beyond staff and suppliers of food
products. When he was involved in construction of the hotel in
2005, he had ordered work redone to correct critical problems. In
one case, contractors had left a 1/4-1/2 inch spaces in the floor
and ceiling moldings that could have allowed dangerous and unsightly
mold to grow. In addition, Poutawa described how cost cutting
modifications were made without his authorization. For example,
instead of importing the specialty refrigeration cases he had
requested, his local contractor ordered Chinese manufactured ones.
The contractor did not understand why he would want to spend so much
money on an imported model when the "same" product could be
purchased much cheaper locally. These failures to meet standards
resulted in delays and frustration for both sides.


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