Expert Committee endorses local action level for plasticiser DEHP in food

The following is issued on behalf of the Expert Committee on Food Safety:

     The Expert Committee on Food Safety endorsed that a proposed action level of 1.5 milligrammes per kilogramme (mg/kg) in food for di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), a plasticiser, would be adopted in Hong Kong, subject to review when more scientific data or information is available in future.

     "This level, proposed by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS), is considered adequate to protect public health and useful to distinguish the presence of DEHP in food from environmental contamination or migration via food contact materials from adulteration," the Chairman of the Expert Committee, Professor Kwan Hoi-shan, said today (June 3).

     "Food with a DEHP level exceeding 1.5 mg/kg may indicate a food adulteration or a misuse of food packaging materials."

     The Expert Committee, which advises the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene on food safety strategies and measures to safeguard public health, held a meeting yesterday (June 2).

     Referring to the recent incident in Taiwan in which a clouding agent used in drinks has been adulterated with DEHP, and that certain food and drinks produced in Taiwan suspected to be contaminated by the chemical have been distributed to Hong Kong, Professor Kwan explained that two facts were taken into consideration in risk management.

     "First, DEHP is not a food additive and the addition of DEHP into food is not approved by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations/World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius Commission or by any national authorities.

     "Second, DEHP may be present in food due to migration from food contact materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) packaging materials and tubes, or from environmental contaminations," Professor Kwan said.

     The Expert Committee noted that as food may be contaminated by DEHP in the environment, a zero tolerance approach might not be applicable for setting the limit of DEHP in food, he added.

     Among countries with specific migration limit for DEHP for food contact materials, a maximum limit of 1.5 mg/kg was set, Professor Kwan said.

     In Hong Kong, the average food consumption, including liquid and water, of the population is about 3 kg/person/day.

     Even in the unlikely event that one third of the food consumed by a person is contaminated, if a maximum limit of 1.5 mg/kg for DEHP in food is set, the exposure to DEHP of a 60-kg adult will be 0.025 mg/kg body weight/day. This exposure is within the WHO's Tolerable Daily Intake, and public health is adequately protected.

     The Expert Committee was briefed about the actions taken by the CFS in response to the incident in Taiwan and noted that the targeted approach adopted in monitoring, surveillance, sampling, testing, risk assessment, control and communication on DEHP has far exceeded any routine surveillance of any harmful substances in food in terms of manpower and resources deployed. Such intensified actions are expected to last until the incident has come to an end.

     Before the adulteration of DEHP in food was reported in Taiwan, DEHP was not included in routine surveillance for checking this kind of abuse.

     "In view of the current incident, the Expert Committee endorsed the recommendation of the CFS to include DEHP in Hong Kong's routine surveillance for prepackaged food that may be produced with the usage of clouding agents," Professor Kwan said.

     "That will help the CFS to collect more information on the local situation for review of the action level for DEHP in food in future," he added.

Ends/Friday, June 3, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:04