CFS announces food safety report for May and test results on use of sulphur dioxide in meat

     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) today (June 30) released the findings of its food safety report for last month and the results of surveillance on the use of sulphur dioxide, a preservative, in meat.

Food safety report for May

     Among some 10,700 food samples tested last month, other than a glutinous rice dumpling sample which was detected to contain a non-permitted preservative, boric acid, and was announced earlier, one sample of pre-packed cookie was found to be unsatisfactory. The overall satisfactory rate was 99.9 per cent.

     A CFS spokesman said about 4,400 food samples had been taken for chemical tests. Some 1,200 samples were collected for microbiological tests and the remaining 5,200 (including about 4,900 samples taken from food imported from Japan) were collected for testing of radiation levels.

     The microbiological tests covered pathogens and hygienic indicators while the chemical tests aimed at detecting pesticides, preservatives, metallic contamination, colouring matter, veterinary drug residues, plasticisers and others.

     The samples comprised about 2,700 samples of vegetables and fruits and their products; 800 samples of meat and poultry and their products; 1,500 samples of aquatic and related products; 1,100 samples of milk, milk products and frozen confections; 600 samples of cereals, grains and their products; and 4,000 samples of other food commodities.

     "Results showed that, except for the unsatisfactory glutinous rice dumpling sample, one sample of pre-packed cookie was found to contain an antioxidant, tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) at a level of 53 parts per million (ppm), which was calculated against the weight of the fat content of the food. Although the level did not exceed the legal limit of 200 ppm, such food additive was not declared in the pre-packed food's label in accordance with the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap 132W)," the spokesman said.

     "The CFS has taken follow-up actions on the unsatisfactory samples, including informing the trade concerned of the test results, instructing the vendors concerned to stop the sale of the food concerned and tracing the source of the food items in question. Prosecution action will also be taken if there is sufficient evidence," he added.

     Furthermore, noting recent media reports that some food trades overseas would remove from beverages brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a food additive that is banned in many countries except those in North America where BVO is used in beverages, the CFS has taken, from different retailers, 25 samples imported from North America in May and June this year for testing. It was noticed that one of the samples had BVO listed as an ingredient and the presence of BVO at a level of 0.9 ppm was confirmed in the test. The CFS learnt that the affected product is currently not available for sale in the market. Prosecution action will be taken if there is sufficient evidence.

     The United States and Canada still allow limited use of BVO (the maximum permitted level in beverages is 15 ppm) in spite of the fact that the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) had evaluated the safety of BVO in 1970 and concluded that it should not be used as food additive.

     "The CFS concurred with the assessment of the JECFA and reminded the food trade not to use BVO in food in Hong Kong. The CFS will continue to remain vigilant on the issue," the spokesman said.

     He reminded the food trade to source food from reliable suppliers, and ensure that their food is fit for consumption and meets legal requirements. The trade should also maintain a good recording system in accordance with the Food Safety Ordinance to allow source tracing if needed. Consumers should patronise reliable shops when buying food and maintain a balanced diet to minimise food risk.

Food surveillance on the use of sulphur dioxide in meat

     The CFS has continued to conduct targeted surveillance on the use of sulphur dioxide, a preservative, in meat this year. Samples of beef, pork and mutton were collected from fresh provision shops and market stalls for testing. The sampling locations covered the meat stalls which had previous records of selling meat containing sulphur dioxide.

     "The CFS is conducting the targeted surveillance project in phases. Among the 255 samples tested in the first half of the year, except for one fresh beef sample and one fresh pork sample found to contain the non-permitted preservative in fresh meat and announced earlier, all the remaining samples were satisfactory. The overall satisfactory rate was 99 per cent. The test results of other samples taken for the targeted surveillance will be announced later," the spokesman said.

     Sulphur dioxide is commonly used in a variety of foods including dried fruits, pickled vegetables and meat products such as sausages and grilled burgers, but under the Preservatives in Food Regulation (subsidiary legislation of Cap 132), it is not permitted in fresh or chilled meat. Nonetheless, individual meat traders have been found illegally using sulphur dioxide to make the meat look fresher. This preservative is of low toxicity. As it is water-soluble, most of it can be removed through washing and cooking.

     The spokesman reminded the food trade that the use of preservatives in food must comply with the Preservatives in Food Regulation. No sulphur dioxide can be used in fresh or chilled meat.

     It is an offence to sell fresh or chilled meat containing sulphur dioxide. The maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine and six months' imprisonment. Upon conviction, the FEHD would also suspend or cancel the fresh provision shop licence concerned under the Demerit Points System. For offences related to public market stalls, the tenancy would be terminated in accordance with the current mechanism.

     The spokesman advised members of the public to purchase food from reliable market stalls or fresh provision shops. They should avoid buying or consuming meat which is unnaturally red and maintain a balanced diet to avoid malnutrition or excessive exposure to chemicals from a small range of food items.

Ends/Monday, June 30, 2014
Issued at HKT 20:41