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Food Safety Focus (103rd Issue, February 2015) – Incident in Focus

Review of Food Incidents in 2014

Reported by Dr. Eliza KY SHA, Medical & Health Officer,
Risk Management Section,
Centre for Food Safety

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has set up a comprehensive system to proactively monitor and manage food incidents reported by the mass media and other authorities locally and abroad.

Follow-up Actions on Food Incidents

The CFS conducts prompt risk assessments on all food incidents identified from various sources with a view to identifying the potential hazards and assessing risks to the general public. Appropriate actions will be taken for those incidents with local relevance and significant potential public health risks. Such actions include keeping close communication with relevant authorities, alerting the trade and the public, conducting sales checks, taking food samples from the market for analysis, issuing public announcements, initiating food recalls and/or making prohibition orders.

Food Incidents in 2014

In 2014, the CFS identified about 1 000 food incidents, a figure similar to that in 2013. In addition, another 550 food recalls related to undeclared allergens were identified. In response to these incidents, the CFS had selected at least 40 incidents involving 160 food products and issued 50 press releases, 62 alerts to the trade and 44 alerts to the public. More than half of the selected incidents were identified either locally or from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Union. Types of hazards identified included microbiological (e.g. Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, etc), chemical, physical (e.g. foreign body, use of substandard substance) and allergen, with microbiological hazard accounting for over 50% of the cases.

Type of hazard involved in local alerts due to food incident

Two food incidents in 2014 which attracted considerable interest from the public and the media were highlighted below

1. The Husi Incident

In July 2014, different media reported that a food factory in Mainland China supplied expired and mouldy meat products to a number of famous fastfood chains in Mainland China and Hong Kong. The CFS conducted prompt actions to ascertain whether any affected food had indeed been imported to Hong Kong. Management of the nine food chains as mentioned in the media reports were contacted and onsite inspections of their food premises and/or cold stores were conducted. Subsequent investigation revealed that only one fastfood chain had imported food from the food factory concerned in 2013 and 2014. In light of information available at that time, the CFS decided, for the sake of prudence, to suspend the import of all food products from all processing plants of the factory concerned in the Mainland into Hong Kong. Any relevant food products available in the local market were marked and sealed, and banned from selling. About 113 tonnes of related food was subsequently disposed of. The local fastfood chain concerned has changed the food supplier after the incident.

2. The Substandard Lard Incident

In early September 2014, the Taiwan authorities reported that some lard/lard products manufactured in Taiwan might have been produced from substandard ingredients, such as waste oils and/or lard from animal feeds. The CFS promptly initiated an investigation, maintained close contact with the Taiwan authorities and devised appropriate control actions. As the investigation proceeded, more fats and oils products including those of animal and plant origins from other Taiwan-based companies were also suspected to have the same problem. The CFS, concerned about the possibility of systemic malpractice in the industry, imposed a ban on the import and the supply of all edible oils of animal or plant origins produced in Taiwan as a precautionary measure. In addition, as some of the affected fats, oils and relevant food products had been exported to Hong Kong, three Food Safety Orders were issued on 14 September, 29 October and 7 November 2014 respectively to mandate recall and proper disposal of all concerned products so as to safeguard Hong Kong’s public health. Since the outbreak of the incident, the CFS had taken over 200 food and lard samples, which were of higher-risk and might be produced from substandard ingredients, for testing. The risk assessment with reference to the test results available suggested that significant health risk on usual consumption of the food concerned was unlikely. In response to mounting concerns over the safety of edible oil, the CFS has enhanced surveillance on edible oil. In addition, the CFS is considering strengthening the regulatory control for edible fats and oils.

Conclusion

The CFS is committed to maintaining a comprehensive system to detect, manage and review food incidents in a timely manner. We strive for preventing unsafe food from entering the local market, so as to protect the public health in Hong Kong.

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Last Revision Date : 18-02-2015