Chinese customs officials made a gruesome discovery this month during a smuggling crackdown, and the words of one of the authorities offers a vivid description: "It was smelly, and I nearly threw up when I opened the door." Inside the container: part of the 100,000-plus tons of frozen beef, pork, and chicken wings seized during the crackdown, China Daily reports. Only some of it wasn't frozen anymore. A customs official tells NBC News that 20 alleged gang members were busted in the raids. The worth of the meat was estimated at $483 million, even though much of it was way past its expiration date—with some from the 1970s. Smuggling frozen meat is apparently big business in China, with smugglers buying up meat in other countries at discount prices, then sending it to Hong Kong in refrigerated containers, per China Daily.
But that's where things go awry, as smugglers hire locals to get the meat back to China via Vietnam. "To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones," a director of the country's anti-smuggling bureau tells the paper. "So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers." This poses a major public-health threat, given that some of the meat has been refrozen after it's spoiled. According to Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety, edible items imported into the country are "subject to surveillance," but not testing, the South China Morning Post notes. (A Chinese company that supplied meat to McDonald's was busted for false expiration dates.)