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Food safety report for September released

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) today (October 27) released the findings of its food safety report for September. Of the 5,500 food samples tested, 22 samples were found to be unsatisfactory and the overall satisfactory rate was 99.6%.

A CFS spokesman said that about 3,600 food samples were taken for chemical tests and the remaining 1,800 for microbiological and other tests. Among the 22 unsatisfactory samples, the test result of a noodlefish sample was announced earlier this month.

The microbiological tests covered pathogens and the chemical tests detected pesticides, preservatives, metallic contamination and colouring matters, etc.

The samples included vegetables, fruits and their products; meat, poultry and their products; aquatic products; milk, milk products and frozen confections; and cereals, grains and their products.

Vegetables, fruits and products
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About 1,900 samples of vegetables, fruits and their products were taken for microbiological and chemical tests. Two samples were found to be unsatisfactory. One sample of chili pepper and one sample of fresh mushroom were found to contain a metal contaminant, cadmium, at a level of 0.25 parts per million (ppm) and 0.28ppm respectively, exceeding the legal limit of 0.1ppm. "Normal consumption of chili pepper or mushroom at the same levels of cadmium are unlikely to cause significant health effects. But long-term consumption of excessive amounts of fresh mushrooms with the detected level of cadmium may affect the kidneys," the CFS spokesman said.

Results of other tests (e.g. pathogens, pesticides, preservatives and colouring matters) were satisfactory.

Meat, poultry and products
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About 500 samples of meat, poultry and their products were taken for microbiological and chemical tests. One sample of chilled chicken was found to have a veterinary drug residue, enrofloxacin, at a level of 0.289ppm exceeding the legal limit of 0.1ppm. The test result was made known to the public through the media in September.

The spokesman pointed out that based on the detected enrofloxacin level, it was unlikely to pose adverse heath effects upon normal consumption.

Results of other tests (e.g. pathogens, preservatives and colouring matters) were satisfactory.

Aquatic products
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About 700 samples, including fish, shellfish, shrimp, prawn, crab, squid and their products, were analysed for microbiological and chemicals. Other than one unsatisfactory noodlefish sample announced earlier, six samples of aquatic products were found to be unsatisfactory. Among them, three were found to have metallic contamination and three others had veterinary drug residues.

On metallic contamination, one sample of swordfish sashimi was found to contain mercury at the level of 0.99ppm, exceeding the legal limit of 0.5ppm. "At the detected mercury level, it is unlikely to pose adverse health effects upon normal consumption. But consumption on a long-term basis may affect the nervous system," the spokesman said.

One sample of fresh fan scallop and one sample of fresh spanner crab were found to contain cadmium at the levels of 3.02ppm and 4.2ppm respectively. "At the detected cadmium levels, occasional consumption will not cause adverse health effects. But consumption on a long-term basis may affect the kidneys," the spokesman said.

On veterinary drug residues, three fish samples (including white amur bream, freshwater grouper and bass) collected during an operation to combat importation of freshwater fish from unknown sources were found to contain the non-permitted malachite green at levels between 0.0055 and 0.19ppm.

"The three freshwater fish samples were collected on a fish vessel. The ship master has surrendered the whole consignment for disposal and none of the fish concerned entered the local market. The CFS will take prosecution action against the ship master. However, normal consumption of similar fish with the same malachite green levels are unlikely to cause adverse health effects," the spokesman said.

Results of other tests (e.g. pathogens, colouring matters and biotoxins) were satisfactory.

Milk, milk products and frozen confections
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The CFS took about 1,000 samples including ice-cream, cheese, milk and milk products for microbiological and chemical analyses. Nine samples coming from two batches were found to be unsatisfactory, exceeding the legal limit for total bacterial count (a hygiene indicator) of 50,000 per gramme. Among them, four samples of strawberry cream-based bars of the same batch were found to contain a total bacterial count of between 51,000 and 65,000 per gramme while another batch of five samples of banana cream-based bars were found to contain a total bacterial count of between 140,000 and 190,000 per gramme.

"The samples were collected at import level. The importer has surrendered the consignments concerned for disposal and no affected products have entered the market," the spokesman said.

The spokesman also reminded importers to source frozen confections from reliable food manufacturers, while manufacturers should ensure that the process of producing frozen confections is hygienic, including proper disinfection of the equipment.

The remaining samples in other tests (e.g. pathogens, melamine, preservatives, colouring matters and sweeteners) were satisfactory.

Cereals, grains and products
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About 100 samples including rice, noodles, flour, bread and breakfast cereal underwent microbiological and chemical tests. All the samples were satisfactory.

Other food commodities
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The CFS took about 1,300 samples, including beverages, dim sum, sushi, sashimi, sugar, sweets, condiments, sauces, snacks, eggs and egg products for tests.

Three unsatisfactory samples were found to contain pathogens in the microbiological tests. One fresh pear juice was found to have staphylococcus aureus at a level of 920 per ml. Two samples of Japanese cheese cakes were found to contain Bacillus cereus at a level of 750,000 and 770,000 per gramme.

"Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus may cause gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea," the spokesman said.

Conclusion
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The detection of samples with pathogens or total bacterial counts exceeding legal limits indicated that the food manufacturing and handling processes were unhygienic. The food trade should always follow the "Five Keys to Food Safety" during food preparation to prevent foodborne diseases.

The CFS spokesman urged the food trade to comply with legal requirements and use permitted food additives only in an appropriate manner. Retailers should source food from reliable suppliers and maintain a good recording system to allow source tracing if needed.

Consumers are advised to patronise reliable shops to buy food and to maintain a balanced diet to minimise food risk. Vegetables should be soaked and washed thoroughly before consumption to remove any cadmium on the surfaces. Fish contain many essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and high quality proteins. Moderate consumption of a variety of fish is recommended. Pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children are susceptible to mercury. They should avoid eating large predatory fish.

Regarding the unsatisfactory samples, the CFS has taken follow-up action, including asking the concerned vendors to stop selling and to dispose of the affected food, taking follow-up samples and issuing warning letters. Prosecution will be taken if there is sufficient evidence.

Ends/Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:37

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Last revision date:27-10-2010