Recall of Chinese herbal medicines exceeding limits for aflatoxins

     The Department of Health (DH) today (February 28) endorsed a licensed Chinese herbal medicines (Chm) wholesaler Wong Chak Kee Limited to voluntarily recall from the market two batches of Chm, namely Nidus Vespae (batch number: 221210) and Semen Arecae (batch number: 221101), as aflatoxins detected in the samples exceeded the limits set out by the Chinese Medicines Board of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong (CMCHK).

     During the DH's market surveillance, samples of the above-mentioned batches of Nidus Vespae and Semen Arecae were collected from two licensed Chm retailers for testing. Testing results from the Government Laboratory revealed that each kilogram of Nidus Vespae sample contained 410 micrograms of aflatoxins and 360mcg of aflatoxin B1, and each kilogram of Semen Arecae sample contained 69mcg of aflatoxins and 58mcg of aflatoxin B1, exceeding the limits set out by the Chinese Medicines Board of the CMCHK (each kilogram of the above-mentioned Chm should not contain more than 10mcg of aflatoxins and 5mcg of aflatoxin B1).

     A preliminary investigation indicated that the above batches of Nidus Vespae and Semen Arecae were imported by Wong Chak Kee Limited from the Mainland. The DH is tracing the source of contamination and distribution of the affected Chm. Investigation is ongoing.
As a precautionary measure, Wong Chak Kee Limited has set up a hotline (2858 2168) for public enquiries. The DH will closely monitor the recall.

     "Aflatoxins are a family of heat-resistant compounds produced by the moulds Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus and related species. Hot and humid conditions, and poor storage can contribute to a higher occurrence of moulds and consequently high levels of aflatoxins in contaminated Chm," a spokesman for the DH said.

     The spokesman added that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified aflatoxins as carcinogenic to humans. Aflatoxins can lead to liver cancer after long-term ingestion, and the risk for hepatitis B carriers is relatively high. So far, no adverse reports related to the use of the above Chm have been received.

     According to the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), Nidus Vespa and Semen Arecae are Schedule 2 Chm. Nidus Vespa, the honeycomb of Polistes olivaceous (DeGeer), Polistes japonicus Saussure or Parapolybia varia Fabricius, is used to expel toxins, kill worms, dispel wind and relieve pain. Semen Arecae, the ripe seed of Areca catechu L, is used to kill worms, eliminate accumulation, move qi, promote urination and interrupt malaria.

     According to section 52 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), selling any drug not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser is liable to a maximum penalty of $10,000 and three months' imprisonment. Upon completion of investigation, the DH will work with the Department of Justice on prosecution matters and will also refer the case to the CMCHK for possible disciplinary action.

     The DH urged members of the public who have purchased the above affected batches of Chm to stop using them immediately and submit them to the Chinese Medicine Regulatory Office of the DH on 16/F, AIA Kowloon Tower, Landmark East, 100 How Ming Street, Kwun Tong, during office hours for disposal. Members of the public who have taken the above Chm and feel unwell should seek advice from healthcare professionals.

Ends/Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Issued at HKT 19:25