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CFS announces test results on Lunar New Year food

     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) recently completed a seasonal food surveillance project to assess the safety of Lunar New Year (LNY) festive food. Among the 684 samples collected, three samples were found to be unsatisfactory. The overall satisfactory rate was 99.6%.

     "The CFS collected different types of LNY food, including steamed puddings (e.g. turnip pudding and festive cake), fried dumplings (e.g. sesame balls and crispy triangles), sweetened fruits and vegetables, glutinous rice balls, seeds, dried vegetables and dried soybean products, dried aquatic products, Chinese preserved meat as well as 'poon choi' from local supermarkets, groceries, market stalls and restaurants in the past few weeks for microbiological and chemical tests," a spokesman for the CFS said today (January 11).

     Microbiological tests covered total bacterial counts and different food poisoning organisms, such as Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus. Chemical tests targeted preservatives (e.g. sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid and formaldehyde), colouring matter (e.g. Sudan dyes), antioxidants, metallic contamination (e.g. cadmium, mercury and arsenic) and toxins (e.g. aflatoxin).

     "Test results showed that one sliced sea volute sample, one sweetened winter melon sample and one bamboo fungus sample were found to contain a preservative, sulphur dioxide, at levels of 4,270 parts per million (ppm), 661 ppm and 3,100 ppm respectively, exceeding the legal limit of 30 ppm for sliced sea volute and 500ppm for sweetened winter melon sample and bamboo fungus," the spokesman said.

     "Sulphur dioxide is of low toxicity and water-soluble. It can largely be removed through washing, soaking and cooking. Upon normal consumption it is unlikely that the three unsatisfactory samples with sulphur dioxide at the detected levels would pose adverse health effects to consumers. Nevertheless, susceptible individuals who are allergic to it may experience shortness of breath, headache and nausea," he said.

     Regarding the unsatisfactory samples, the spokesman said that the CFS had taken follow-up action including source tracing, requesting concerned vendors to stop the sale and to dispose of those food items, taking further samples and issuing warning letters. If there is sufficient evidence, prosecution will be taken.

     He reminded the food trade to follow Good Manufacturing Practice and comply with legal requirements when using food addictives. Retailers should source food from reliable suppliers to ensure that the ingredients used are within legal standards as well as to maintain a good recording system to allow source tracing if needed.

     The Food Safety Ordinance is now effective. Upon the expiry of the grace period by the end of this month (January 31), any person who does not register but carries on a food importation or distribution business, or fails to comply with the record-keeping requirement, commits an offence. He urged all food traders to observe the requirements of the Ordinance.

     The spokesman also advised consumers to buy LNY food from reliable retailers with good hygienic conditions; make sure the packaging of prepackaged cakes and snacks is intact and note the expiry dates; and pay attention to the hygienic conditions of food containers and personal hygiene of staff in buying non-packaged food (e.g. sweetened lotus seeds, nuts and melon seeds).

     "Consumers should choose food products with natural colour. Brightly white pistachios may have been bleached and melon seeds with unnatural gloss may have had mineral oil added. Consumption of these food products can cause gastrointestinal discomfort," he said.

     The spokesman also reminded members of the public that festive cakes that are not for immediate consumption should be kept refrigerated. They should pay attention to expiry dates and cook thoroughly before consumption. Discard those with mould or an abnormal smell or taste. Nuts and melon seeds should not be kept for a long time and mouldy ones should not be eaten.
     "During Lunar New Year, one should always maintain a balanced diet and avoid foods that are high in energy, sugar, salt, fat or cholesterol," he said.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 11:14


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