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Food Safety Focus (45th Issue, April 2010) – Incident in Focus

Food Poisoning Outbreaks Related to Food Premises and
Food Business in Hong Kong

Reported by Dr. Dawin LO, Medical & Health Officer,
Food Incidents Response & Management Unit, Centre for Food Safety

Introduction

Food poisoning is one of the statutory notifiable diseases in Hong Kong. To protect public health, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), in collaboration with the Department of Health (DH), offers timely and effective management to suspected food poisoning outbreaks related to food premises. This article reviews food poisoning outbreaks related to food premises and food business in Hong Kong following the setting up of the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in 2006 and introduces the food safety work to prevent food poisoning by the FEHD.

Food Poisoning Outbreaks Related to Local Food Premises and Food Business

From 2006 to 2009, the CFS received referral from the DH of 2 186 food premises and food business related food poisoning outbreaks reported and totally 8 283 persons were affected. (Table 1 & Figure 1).

Food Poisoning Table
Table 1 Number of food premises / food business related food poisoning outbreaks and number of persons affected from 2006 to 2009 as recorded by CFS

Food Poisoning Figure 1
Figure 1: Number of food premises / food business related food poisoning outbreaks and number of persons affected from 2006 to 2009

Causative Agents, Contributory Factors of Food Poisoning Outbreaks Related to Food Premises and Food Business

For the causative agents from both confirmed and suspected cases, bacteria were by far the most common causative agents which accounted for about 80% of the outbreaks. Other causative agents were viruses (9%), biotoxins (6%) and chemicals (5%) (Figure 2). Three bacterial organisms, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Salmonella spp. and Staphylococcus aureus, were the causes of most (around 98%) of the confirmed bacterial food poisoning outbreaks.

Food Poisoning Figure 2
Figure 2: Statistics of causative agents* in food poisoning outbreaks related to food premises and food business from 2006 to 2009

Most food poisoning outbreaks occurred as a result of improper food handling. The top five common contributing factors were: (1) Contamination by raw food / utensil, (2) Inadequate cooking / reheating, (3) Improper holding temperature, (4) Consumption of contaminated raw food, and (5) Poor personal hygiene of food handler (Figure 3).

Food Poisoning Figure 3
Figure 3: Statistics of contributory factors associated with the food poisoning outbreaks related to food premises and food business from 2006 to 2009

Prevention of Food Poisoning

The FEHD and its CFS have been playing major roles in prevention of food poisoning.

a) Control of Food Poisoning Outbreaks

Upon notification, the FEHD conducts investigation and implements prompt control measures to prevent further outbreaks. These include health education and enforcement actions ranging from verbal warnings, summon actions to closure of the incriminated food premises in case of large scale or serious food poisoning outbreak.

b) Promotion of Food Safety in Food Premises and Food Business

        The CFS has been promoting the adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in food processing through workshops and seminars targeting food handlers who handle high-risk food items, such as sushi and sashimi. The CFS has also launched the “Five Keys to Food Safety” Campaign to address the common contributing factors of food poisoning.

c) Other Food Safety Work

Other risk management measures to promote food safety include licensing of food premises, regular inspection and implementation of food surveillance programme. Prompt risk management actions are carried out whenever irregularities are detected.

Conclusions

There was a decrease in food poisoning outbreaks from 2006 to 2009. The HKSAR Government has been taking prompt management and control measures to prevent and control food poisoning outbreaks. Improper food handling is the leading contributory factor for food poisoning outbreaks. The trade and public are advised to follow five keys for food safety to address the common contributory factors of food poisoning.


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Last Revision Date : 23-04-2010