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1st Issue 2006

Feature Articles
1. Food Safety Tips for Enjoying Buffets
Have you seen Easter bunnies and giant Easter eggs lately? Easter is already on the way! I like good foods on festive seasons, be they from Beijing, Japan, Thailand, Korea or India. Buffet is my favourite as I can sample different cuisines in one meal. However, we have to understand the potential food hazards when enjoying buffets. Here are the five main risk factors:


  1. Preparation of too much food in a short time / preparation too early
    A lot of food has to be prepared beforehand to ensure continual food supply at buffet tables. However, the prepared food will go bad easily if it is not properly kept at the right temperatures, or if it is left at room temperature for too long.
  2. Supply of high-risk foods
    Some high-risk food items, such as oysters and sashimi which do not require cooking at high temperature, may contain pathogenic micro-organisms if they are not properly handled.
  3. Supply of a wide variety of foods
    Cross-contamination may occur when ready-to-eat and uncooked foods are not properly handled and served at the same time.
  4. Prolonged Food display / consumption time
    Bacteria continue to grow in food which have been displayed for too long or the meal takes a long time to finish. Some bacteria may even produce toxins.
  5. Contamination by customers
    Customers using their hands or unsuitable utensils to get foods may inadvertently contaminate other foods.
Food poisoning cases in buffet preparation are usually caused by:
  1. microbiological contamination of food; and
  2. residual survival or growth of pathogens in food.

The following 10 safety tips can help to eliminate these causes:

  1. Obtain raw materials from reputable and approved sources
    There is no guarantee of food quality if raw materials are obtained from unreliable sources.
  2. Observe good hygiene practices
    Even if raw materials are fresh and obtained from reliable sources, the safety of food may still be compromised if hygiene practices are neglected during food preparation.
  3. Store prepared foods properly
    As prepared foods will not be reheated at high temperature before consumption, they must be stored properly to avoid contamination which may lead to food poisoning.
  4. Do not prepare too much food or start preparation too early
    If too much food is prepared or preparation starts too early, it will inevitably be left at room temperature for too long and allows harmful bacteria and pathogenic micro-organisms to multiply in the food. Adopt the first-in-first-out principle in food storage.
  5. Keep cold dishes chilled in refrigerators or on ice
    Most cold dishes are easily perishable. They will go bad in a short time without proper chilling. Store cold dishes at 4 oC or below.
  6. Keep hot-served foods over warming devices When food is kept in the temperature danger zone between 4 oC and 60 oC, bacteria will multiply in a short time. Keep hot-served foods at 60 oC or above.
  7. Appoint staff members to monitor food hygiene
    Appoint staff members to monitor the cleanliness and hygiene conditions of food display areas and to remove contaminated foods and utensils immediately.
  8. Keep and handle raw and cooked foods separately
    Cooked foods are susceptible to contamination by bacteria present in raw foods. Keep raw and cooked foods separately to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
  9. Display food in proper portions
    Too much food displayed will take a longer time to be consumed by patrons and allows bacteria to multiply.
  10. Avoid mixing with food already displayed
    Bacteria may have grown in the food already displayed on the tables for some time. Refilling by adding in new food allows bacteria to spread to the food just added in.
2. The Role of the World Health Organization in Food Safety
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a mandate for the protection of public health. One of its missions is the attainment of the highest possible level of health by all people. WHO's role in food safety is to reduce the burden of foodborne illness by advising and assisting Member States to reduce the pathogens and harmful chemical contaminants in food. The 1948 WHO Constitution includes specific charges relating to food safety:
  • assist governments in strengthening health services relating to food safety;
  • promote improved nutrition, sanitation and other aspects of environmental hygiene;
  • develop international standards for food; and,
  • assist in developing informed public opinion among all peoples on matters of food safety.

WHO has been involved in food safety for over five decades. Many WHO activities in this area are carried out in close collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In May 1963, the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) as its principal organ, was established. The main objective of CAC is to protect the health of consumers and to ensure fair practice in food trade through the elaboration of food standards contained in a food code (Codex Alimentarius). The participation of WHO was required because of its mandate for public health and food safety.

WHO's central role is a normative one and includes international standard setting and the facilitation of risk assessments. WHO has promoted the concept of risk analysis as a framework for the management of food safety. The main focus is the development of methods for quantitative microbiological and chemical risk assessment, foodborne disease surveillance and assessment of the safety of products of genetic engineering. WHO also provides technical assistance to governments, through its regional offices, to ensure a safe food supply for their populations. WHO assists national governments in developing and implementing food safety programmes and food legislation and provides support for setting up information systems for monitoring food contamination and surveying foodborne diseases.

The Fifty-third World Health Assembly in May 2000 gave unanimous support for resolution WHA53.15 on food safety. This resolution confirmed food safety as an essential public health priority and committed WHO and its Member States to a range of multisectoral and multidisciplinary actions to promote the safety of food at local, national and international levels. It also resolved to expand WHO's responsibilities in food safety, including using limited resources efficiently to promote food safety as an essential public health function, and suggesting appropriate interventions to improve global food safety.
3. Expired Food
Recently, some organisations have taken samples of prepackaged food in the market and found that some had already passed their expiry dates. The community expressed much concern on the protection of food safety for the general public.

According to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap 132W), all prepackaged food should have durability indication to assist the public in making informed choices. Based on the type of food concerned, food durability indications can be marked or labelled in either of the following ways:

"use by 此日期前食用" date -
It is used in food items that are highly perishable from the micro-biological point of view, such as pasteurized milk, prepacked sandwiches with egg and ham, etc. as an indicator for food safety. These foods can be stored only for a relatively short time after manufacturing, and are likely to constitute a danger to human health if consumed after their "use by" date. Therefore, sale of such foods after their "use by" date is prohibited.
"best before 此日期前最佳" date -
An indication of food quality used for other general food items such as candies and canned beverages. The "best before" date indicates the date before which specific properties of the food, such as its colour, taste and appearance, can be maintained at optimal conditions if the food is properly stored. It does not mean that the food would necessarily perish immediately or pose a risk to human health after this date. Some foods may still retain good quality after their "best before" date.
The above two types of label to differentiate and label the expiry date is not unique to Hong Kong. Many countries in the world, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union, adopt similar principles to indicate the expiry date. The usual practice is to prohibit the sale of food products beyond their "use by" date, and while the sale of food products beyond their "best before" date is not illegal, vendors are required to ensure that such food products have not deteriorated.

Different foods have different ingredients and their durability period varies. As manufacturers have the best knowledge of the specific qualities and durability of their products, the durability periods of foods on the market are determined by them.

The adoption of "use by" and "best before" dates are meant to assist the public in making informed choices with the hope to reduce waste. For foods (such as canned food products) that can be stored for a longer period, expiry of the durability period specified by the "best before" date does not mean that the foods would necessarily become unfit for consumption or pose immediate health risk upon consumption. As a result, they are treated differently under the law. While it is an offence to sell food after its "use by" date, it is not illegal to sell food beyond its "best before" date unless it is confirmed upon examination that the food has deteriorated or become unfit for human consumption.

Advice to the Trade
  1. Take note of the durability period of foods being sold at all times. Adopt the "first-in-first-out" principle for food storage. Do not sell food that has passed the expiry date to safeguard public health.
  2. In addition to the "use by" dates, pay attention to the packaging. If the packaging is damaged, the food may have been contaminated or deteriorated even though it is still within the durability period.
Food Safety Tips
Guidelines on Hygienic Handling of Ice
Ice is widely used in food premises for a number of purposes. It is either purchased from suppliers or produced in the premises.

If not handled properly, ice can be a vehicle to spread foodborne diseases. It is the responsibility of the management of food premises to ensure that sufficient instructions and training are given to employees on good hygiene practices to minimise ice contamination.

Ice purchased from supplies is mostly in packages. Packaged ice intended for human consumption should be purchased from reliable and reputable suppliers. Furthermore, packaged ice should be transported and stored in such a manner to minimise contamination from the external surface of the packages. When transferring ice from the package into ice buckets, the following hygienic procedure should be observed:

  1. Clean ice buckets and the surrounding surfaces.
  2. Clean and dry the surface of the packages with a clean cloth.
  3. Use clean utensils to open the ice packages.
  4. When poured into ice buckets, the ice should not touch the external surface of the packages or the bare hands of the handler.

Food premises can also make their own ice by ice machine. Ice machine should be connected to a direct main water supply, and sited in an area away from potential sources of contamination to ensure that ice is not made from water already contaminated by micro-organisms. Most ice machines require servicing at least twice a year in accordance with manufacturer's instructions. The exterior and the ice storage compartment of the ice machine (particularly the door and hatch) should be cleaned on a regular basis according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The following should be observed during the handling, storage and serving of ice:

(a) Staff should wash and dry their hands thoroughly before dispensing ice from the machine.

(b) Ice should always be dispensed from the machine by clean utensils such as scoop. Never use the hand. Do not use breakable utensils such as drinking glass to dispense ice.

(c) At the end of each working day:

  • Scoops and other utensils in contact with ice should be cleaned. Such equipment should be checked throughout the day for any signs of contamination, and should be cleaned immediately when necessary.
  • Any ice left in the ice buckets should be disposed of. After cleaning the ice buckets, do not put back the leftover ice to the ice buckets.

(d) When the scoop is placed in the ice bucket, its handle should not touch the ice. The scoop should be positioned in such a way that the handler will not touch the ice when taking hold of the handle.

(e) Ice buckets should be covered at all times.

(f) Ice storage utensils should not be used for the cooling/storage of other items (e.g. bottles of beer, cans of soft drinks or cartons of milk).

Food Safety Plan Corner
Safety Tips on Food for Take-away/Delivery

Life in Hong Kong is hectic. Food to go or food delivery is common. Sometimes people will take the leftovers home when they dine out. Delivery takes time and the food may not be consumed immediately. To ensure the safety of take away/delivered food, the following are safety tips for the food trade in food preparation and sale:

  • Remind customers to consume take away/delivered food as soon as possible. Otherwise the food should be stored at proper temperatures and reheated thoroughly until the core temperature reaches 75oC or above before consumption. Separate hot-served and cold-served foods during delivery to avoid interplay between the temperatures of these foods.

  • Ensure that ready-to-eat food to be served cold is kept at safe temperatures (i.e. 4oC or below). Food premises should put enough ice on food packages or provide customers with small ice bags with ice packs.
  • Pay attention to food temperature and cleanliness during delivery. Staff should notify the supervisors of the food premises to follow-up on customers' queries on food.

In January 2006, The Food & Environmental Hygiene Department issued to the food trade "Additional Conditions for Conducting Take-away Food Service and Food Delivery Service" requiring their compliance with the conditions which include, among others, storing food (for take-away or delivery) in covered containers, keeping meal boxes inside dust-, rodent- and fly-proof containers before use and maintaining hot-served food at a temperature above 60oC and cold-served food at a temperature of 4oC or below. The food trade should carefully read the conditions. If deteriorated food due to violation of the relevant additional licensing conditions is sold to the public, the food premises concerned may be subject to prosecution.

As long as the food trade pays attention to storage duration and temperature, maintains good personal and environmental hygiene and ensures quick delivery after food preparation, the safety of food for take-away/delivery can be guaranteed.

Interpretation of Ordinance
Regulation 4(1) of the Colouring Matter in Food Regulations - Prohibition on the Use of Colouring Matter in Certain Commodities

Chinese have always been fastidious about food especially about its colour, aroma and flavour. In the course of food production, manufacturers may add colouring matter into food to make them more attractive or to restore their colours. Colouring matter is a kind of food additive. It is not easy to differentiate between natural and synthetic colouring matter just from the appearance of the food.

The law prohibits the use of some colouring matters in food. For instance, Sudan I and Para Red related to the food colouring incidents last year are not permitted to be added to food. Furthermore, food colours cannot be used in some kinds of food. For example, meat, vegetables, fish, etc in raw and unprocessed state are not allowed to have any added colouring matter.

Regulation 4(1) of the Colouring Matter in Food Regulations (Cap. 132H), which governs the use of colouring matter in food, provides that, "no meat, game, poultry, fish, fruit or vegetable in a raw and unprocessed state which is intended for sale for human consumption shall have in or upon it, otherwise than for the purpose of marking, any added colouring matter." However, the Regulations provides that citrus fruit may have in or upon it added permitted colouring matter if:
(a) the words "colour added" are marked on the skin of such fruit in permitted colouring matter; and
(b) such words are distinct and legible and of such size as to be conspicuously visible.

Any person who contravenes the Colouring Matter in Food Regulations shall be liable to a maximum penalty of $50,000 and imprisonment for 6 months.


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2007 copyright logo | Important notices Last Revision Date : 30-12-2006