LCQ11: Food safety incidents of chain restaurants

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (January 27):


     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is responsible for food safety matters and takes food samples for testing according to a risk-based principle. Some members of the public have relayed to me that food safety incidents involving eateries of fast food chains have occurred one after another recently. For instance, the eateries of an American-style fast food chain sold meat containing antibiotics, while those of a Hong Kong-style fast food chain were repeatedly fined by the court for selling food containing insects, and did not keep chilled chicken under refrigeration at a temperature between 0¢XC and 4¢XC during transportation as required. Those members of the public are worried that their health may be affected as they often patronise such eateries. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether CFS assessed, in the past three years, the risks of food safety incidents posed by the food sold by the eateries of fast food chains; if CFS did, of the assessment outcome, how such eateries compare to other eateries in this regard, and the justifications for arriving at the relevant assessment outcome; and

(2) whether CFS will step up its efforts in conducting regular and surprise inspections on the hygiene conditions and food handling at the eateries of fast food chains; if CFS will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) is the licensing authority of food premises. In accordance with the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) and the Food Business Regulation (Cap. 132X), FEHD has, through the licensing regime, inspections and enforcement actions, strived to ensure that licensees of food premises comply with licensing requirements and conditions, and abide by the provisions relating to food safety and environmental hygiene under Cap. 132 and its subsidiary legislation. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of FEHD, through the food surveillance programme, takes food samples at the import, wholesale and retail levels (including licensed food premises) for microbiological, chemical and radiological testing to ensure that the food sold in Hong Kong is safe and fit for consumption. My consolidated reply to the two parts of the question is as follows.

     Under the "Risk-based Inspection System" (RBIS) adopted by FEHD since 2003, licensed food premises are classified into three risk types whereas the inspection frequency is determined by the risk potential of individual food premises. Food premises classified as low, medium and high risk types (Types I, II and III) are inspected once every 20, 10 and four weeks respectively. Major considerations that are taken into account in the classification of licensed food premises include the type of food sold and the intended mode of consumption by customers, the activity of the food business, the method of food processing in use, the size of the customer base and past records of the food premises. Based on the concept of "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point", this classification method aims at preventing food safety problems and ensuring that inspection resources are appropriately allocated. As such, the frequency at which individual licensed food premises are inspected is determined by the level of risk potential assigned to them. Based on the same set of considerations, the branches of large-scale catering chains across the territory are assessed and classified individually for determining their inspection frequency.

     FEHD reviews the risk potential of individual licensed food premises annually to determine the frequency of inspections in the following year. Licensed food premises found responsible for any food safety incident will be reclassified as Type III (high risk type) and more frequent inspections will be conducted by FEHD to ensure environmental hygiene and food safety.
     Under the RBIS, FEHD officers will conduct inspections at individual branches of chain restaurants according to their risk types. During the inspections, the health inspectors of the FEHD will check the sanitary conditions of the food premises concerned and the food safety management measures taken in respect of food, equipment, personal hygiene of food handlers, cleanliness of the premises, pest control and waste disposal, with a view to ensuring that the licensed food premises comply with the licensing conditions and meet the hygiene and food safety standards required by law. Inspection officers will issue warnings or institute prosecutions as appropriate for any irregularities found.

     In order to fortify control over licensed food premises, apart from routine inspections, FEHD also conducts theme-based surprise inspections and takes enforcement actions when necessary. In the event of food safety incidents in licensed food premises, FEHD will prosecute the non-compliant licensees and conduct more frequent inspections of the premises concerned. If the situation warrants, the restaurants will be ordered to suspend business and carry out thorough cleansing and disinfection. They will be allowed to resume business only when further inspection results are found to be satisfactory.

     Furthermore, when formulating the food surveillance programme, the CFS adopts a risk-based principle in taking food samples from different licensed food premises for testing, and in determining the types of samples to be collected, the frequency and number of samples taken for testing, and the types of laboratory analysis to be conducted. The sampling programme is under regular review, taking into account factors such as past food surveillance results, local and overseas food incidents as well as relevant risk analysis. Where licensed food premises are involved in food safety incidents, the CFS will step up sampling of food at such food premises to ensure food safety.

Ends/Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Issued at HKT 13:45