Producers and sellers of "gutter oil", or illegally recycled cooking oil, could face the death penalty, China's top court reaffirmed on Thursday.
The reaffirmation is the country's latest effort to crack down on a cause of public concern over food safety in the world's most populous country.
"Courts should fully consider suspects' subjective intention, the amount of money involved and the harm that has been done to the public and the market," read a circular issued on Thursday by the Supreme People's Court, China's top court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the top prosecuting body, and the Ministry of Public Security.
"For those who deserve death, death penalties should be handed down resolutely," it said.
Gutter oil can contain carcinogens and other toxins that are harmful when consumed by people. The government launched a massive crackdown last year after media reports said gutter oil has been rampant in China.
Police have busted 100 gutter oil manufacturers since August and arrested about 800 suspects in 135 cases in the campaign, Xinhua News Agency said.
The notice issued on Thursday also said the court should impose "harsh punishments" on government officials if they fail to fulfill their duties and that "causes damage to public health" and "erodes the government's credibility".
According to a law amendment enacted in May, criminals convicted of food safety crimes that cause death will be put behind bars for at least 10 years. Life sentences and the death penalty could be also handed down.
In the past two years, 726 criminals have received jail sentences for producing and selling tainted food. The most severe punishment was a death sentence with a two-year reprieve.
But none of those punished was a government official, said Sun Jungong, spokesman for the top court.
Two men were executed in November 2009 for adding melamine, a chemical that can lead to kidney stones and kidney failure, to dairy products.
Dubbed by the media as the country's most notorious food safety scandal, at least six babies were killed after consuming the tainted formula.
However, some experts called for a cautious use of death penalty.
Liu Renwen, a legal expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said despite the severe harm of producing and selling tainted food, the death penalty should be handed down "with care" for a non-violent crime.