LCQ8: Ensuring food safety
It has been reported that imported food products have been found to have food safety problems from time to time in recent years, such as the presence of substandard food additives, and contamination with harmful micro-organisms and COVID-19 virus. On ensuring food safety, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it is learnt that the Mainland has introduced a "QR-code based traceability system" in recent years which allows consumers to obtain real-time food information by scanning traceability codes on packaging surface of food products or at food sales counters for prevention of problems relating to food contamination and fake/counterfeit food, etc., whether the Government will make reference to the Food Safety Supervision System on the Mainland and study the introduction of a similar QR-code based traceability system; if not, of the reasons for that;
(2) whether it has established any mutual monitoring and notification mechanisms with the Mainland and other regions on food safety; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it has plans to formulate measures to nurture management talents and upgrade technologies in food safety; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) The Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612) (the Ordinance) has established a food tracing mechanism, which provides that any person engaged in the food business shall maintain records of the movements of food, including the date the food was acquired, the name and contact details of the seller, the place from which the food was imported, and the total quantity and description of the food. The relevant provisions ensure that the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) can promptly and effectively trace the source of food and take corresponding follow-up actions in case of a food incident.
In addition, in early 2022, the CFS established the new Food Incident Management System (FIMS) to strengthen its effectiveness in recording, tracking and monitoring its actions taken in food incidents. The FIMS has a knowledge base with risk assessments and related reference materials for effective and accurate retrieval of past records. At the same time, the FIMS can trace the sources of problematic foods to help the CFS enhance effectiveness in tracing, interception and recall of the foods concerned, as well as to devise follow-up actions.
As regards the "QR-code based traceability systems" which target consumers, as far as we understand, currently in the Mainland, such systems are mainly driven by the government together with industry organisations; while in overseas countries, they are mainly provided by the trade on their own initiative. In Hong Kong, we note that many enterprises have already established their food traceability systems to allow consumers to conveniently obtain information of the products at various stages of the supply chain using technologies such as QR codes. We will keep in view development in the Mainland and international community regarding the application of the "QR-code based traceability systems" in regulating food safety, as well as the effectiveness of such practice in enhancing food safety.
(2) As food incidents occurring outside Hong Kong might potentially have implications on local food safety, the CFS has established the Food Incident Surveillance System (FISS) to monitor food incidents and reports outside Hong Kong. It has also been maintaining close liaison with the Mainland and other food safety authorities, to facilitate the making of rapid information exchange and the taking of necessary follow-up measures in response to food incidents.
Besides, the CFS has participated in various international food safety information networks, such as the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) established by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, as well as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Union. Whenever an international food incident with possibility of affecting Hong Kong occurs, the CFS will closely liaise with the relevant international food safety information networks and the relevant food safety authorities to keep track of the relevant information and take prompt follow-up actions. For example, on November 15 this year, in view of notifications from the World Organisation for Animal Health about outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in certain areas in Russia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, the CFS instructed the trade to suspend the import of poultry meat and products (including poultry eggs) from the relevant areas with immediate effect to protect public health in Hong Kong.
Over the past five years, around 9 400 food incidents were detected through the relevant international food safety information networks and the FISS, with follow-up actions taken accordingly. When the products concerned are found available on the local market, the CFS will direct the trade to cease selling, remove from shelves or recall the affected products as appropriate and alert members of the public and the trade. The CFS will continue to safeguard public health by reacting swiftly to food incidents through early detection and intervention.
(3) At present, many higher education institutions and training organisations are offering courses relating to food safety, food technology and quality control at different levels including master's degree, bachelor's degree, higher diploma and certificate-level courses, for people from different backgrounds. Such training courses help nurture food safety management talents and upgrade industry technologies.
Besides, to strengthen food safety supervision in licensed food premises, the FEHD introduced the Hygiene Manager and Hygiene Supervisor Scheme in 2005, which requires large food premises and/or food premises producing high risk food to appoint a Hygiene Manager and a Hygiene Supervisor; and all other food premises to appoint a Hygiene Manager or a Hygiene Supervisor. They are to assist in overseeing the daily operation and management of the food premises to ensure food safety and hygiene. Hygiene Managers and Hygiene Supervisors must possess relevant qualifications, including attending training courses provided by local institutions/organisations that are recognised by the FEHD, or the free Hygiene Supervisor training course provided by the FEHD.
Through various channels, such as regular trade talks, publications and social media platforms, the CFS is dedicated to promoting the Five Keys to Food Safety and Good Hygiene Practices to food businesses to ensure food safety at food premises and protect consumers' health. In November 2022, the CFS launched the new Safe Kitchen thematic website and produced the Food Safety Guide: An Illustrated Guide to Good Hygiene Practices for Food Handlers. They are designed to alert food handlers the common food safety mistakes through vivid, in-depth, and easy-to-read illustrations and short videos.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:00
Issued at HKT 12:00