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Food Safety Focus (128th Issue, March 2017) – Incident in Focus

Review of Food Incidents in 2016

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

Food is indispensable to lives, but unsafe food poses global health threats and endangers all walks of life. As the food authority in Hong Kong, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been actively monitoring local and overseas food incidents through various channels. Upon identifying food incidents that may affect local public health, appropriate control measures will be initiated.

Food Incidents in 2016

In 2016, the CFS identified about 1 400 food incidents and another 450 food recalls related to undeclared allergens, which are similar to the figures in 2015. The CFS conducted risk assessments on all food incidents identified and took follow up actions for those with local public health relevance.

In response to these incidents, the CFS issued 32 trade alerts, 183 food incident posts and 42 press releases in 2016. The hazards identified included microbiological (e.g. Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, etc.), chemical (e.g. use of unauthorised/ excessive preservatives, undeclared allergens) and physical (e.g. foreign body), with over 50% of cases related to microbiological hazards (see Figure).

Type of Hazard

Types of hazard involved in local alerts due to food incident

Important Food Incidents

Three important food incidents which attracted considerable interest from the public and the media in 2016 are described in the following paragraphs.

1. Incident of hairy crabs detected with dioxins

In late September 2016, the CFS collected hairy crab (also known as mitten crab) samples for testing under the seasonal food surveillance programme. Two of the samples collected at import level from two aquaculture farms in Jiangsu Province were found to contain dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at levels exceeding the CFS’s action level. To safeguard public health, the CFS has taken a series of follow-up actions, including immediately (1 November 2016) suspending the import and sale of the hairy crabs from the two aquaculture farms, instructing the local importers concerned to remove the affected products from shelves, stop sale and initiate a recall, and notifying the relevant authorities in the Mainland for follow-up.

In addition, the CFS has stepped up surveillance against hairy crabs. It was later found that the total level of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in another sample taken at the retail level also exceeded the CFS’s action level and our investigation suggested that the affected sample, imported earlier, was likely from one of the aquaculture farms where the import of hairy crabs to Hong Kong has been suspended.

The CFS will continue to keep close liaison with the relevant authorities in the Mainland to ensure safe supply of hairy crabs.

2. Incident of imported live pigs tainted with prohibited veterinary drug

In early August 2016, some urine samples from live pigs imported from two Mainland farms were found to contain residues of a veterinary drug, salbutamol, which is prohibited under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Chemical Residues) Regulation (Cap. 139N) and the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations (Cap. 132AF).

Since the carcasses of the affected pigs have inadvertently found their ways into the distribution network, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) took remedial actions by issuing a public announcement to alert the public, tracing the distribution and liaising with the retail outlets concerned. Relevant Mainland authorities were informed for appropriate follow-up actions. The tainted pigs were ultimately disposed of. There were no reports of food poisoning arising from this incident.

Learning from this incident, the FEHD will exercise stringent control to ensure all pork and offal sold at retail outlets are fit for human consumption.

3. Incident of a mooncake sample detected with aflatoxins by Macau authorities

In September 2016, the CFS received a notification from Macau authorities that a sample of mooncake imported from Hong Kong was detected with aflatoxins at a level exceeding Macau’s newly adopted legal limit (i.e. 5 ppb).

The CFS has all along been monitoring the aflatoxins level in mooncakes under our seasonal surveillance project. For those samples tested, all were below 5 ppb. In view of the Macau’s report, the CFS has further enhanced surveillance on mooncake for aflatoxins. Nine samples of the same brand of mooncake reported by the Macau authorities were collected and the aflatoxins levels in all samples were below 15 ppb (i.e. local legal limit), and also below 5 ppb (i.e. Macau’s legal limit). The CFS will keep abreast of international developments, and tighten the legal limit if considered appropriate.

Way Forward

In managing food incidents, the CFS not only strives to reduce the immediate impact of the incidents, but also takes important follow-up measures (e.g. enhancing surveillance) to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. The CFS is committed to maintaining a comprehensive system to detect, manage and review food incidents in a timely manner.

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Last Revision Date : 15-03-2017