Eleven die from suspected tainted vinegar in China

BEIJING - Vinegar stored in plastic barrels that once contained antifreeze is suspected of killing 11 people and making 120 others sick in China's northwest Xinjiang region, state media said on Monday, in the latest deadly food safety scandal to hit the country.

Police said residents of Sangzhu village, near Hotan, in the vast region that is home to many ethnic Uighur Muslims, had consumed the toxic vinegar on Saturday during a large Ramadan feast, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Authorities were still investigating the poisoning, which killed at least one six-year-old child.

"(An) initial probe shows that villagers ate vinegar from two plastic barrels which were used to contain antifreeze, before feeling sick," Xinhua said, though it added the cause has not been officially confirmed.

China has been plagued by food safety scandals in recent years and leaders have struggled to rein in the unruly food sector despite tough punishments and repeated vows to crack down on the problem.

Since July, Chinese courts have sentenced at least a dozen people to jail, including one person who received a suspended death sentence, for their roles in producing or selling pork tainted with a toxic chemicals.

China said it would give rewards to people who report on food safety issues, such as the illegal use of additives or sale of meat from animals which die of disease, but has not said how much money it would offer.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from drinking milk made from powder laced with melamine, an industrial compound added to milk and milk power to give misleadingly high results in protein tests.