The microbiological and chemical test results of some 58,000 food samples collected in 2000 showed that the overall trend for the year was continuously improving as the failure rate for both microbiological and chemical testing have decreased to 0.7 per cent, comparing to 1.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent recorded in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
On the results of microbiological testing, some 19,000 food samples were examined in 2000 and pathogens were found in 59 samples, equivalent to a failure rate of 0.3 per cent. The failure rate has decreased markedly when compared with the failure rates recorded in 1998 (0.6 per cent) and 1999 (0.4 per cent). A review of the presence of pathogens in food samples indicated that :
- Salmonella remained to be the most commonly identified pathogen. Its primary source included poultry, eggs, shellfish and salads.
- The next common pathogen-food combination was hepatitis A virus in shellfish.
- There was a slight rise in the rate of finding Bacillus cereus* in cooked food, especially fried rice and vermicelli, as a result of improper storage of the food. (*Bacillus cereus is an ubiquitous organism of the environment, usually found in contaminated food such as fried rice and vermicelli. Its spore may survive under very low or very high temperature and germinate, multiply and produce toxin under favourable conditions like room temperature. Symptoms include diarrhoea and vomiting may occur within 4 hours of ingestion. Normally, the patient will recover soon without treatment.)
- Listeria monocytogenes in cold food such as cold meat and soft cheese was still a concern.
Regarding chemical testing, some 39,000 food samples were analysed for presence of food additives, pesticides and contaminants. Of them, 339 were unsatisfactory samples, giving a failure rate of 0.9 per cent. The failure rate was dropped continuously for three consecutive years from 1.5 per cent in 1998 and one per cent in 1999. The failure rate for tests on pesticides in 2000 remained low at 0.5 per cent.
Surveillance results also showed that two illegal practices were still of concern. One resulted from some unscrupulous meat sellers purposely abused the use of preservative - sulphur dioxide by puffing the powder onto fresh meat to improve the colour appearance and prolong shelf-life. Another was the abusive use of beta-agonists (clenbuterol). The Department was vigilant in taking enforcement action against such illegal practices. 36 cases of abusive use of sulphur dioxide in fresh meat were successfully prosecuted in 2000.
Moreover, a total of 488 prosecutions arising from food surveillance were executed in 2000. In connection with prominent food poisoning outbreaks, immediate investigations were conducted resulting in 25 prosecutions. Of these, 15 were related to beta-agonists and 10 concerning microbial food poisoning.
Besides taking strict enforcement action, the Department would enhance the awareness of members of the trade about the importance of assuring the safety of their food sold and the legal liability of breaching the law through preventive education. The Department would also continue to attach great importance in promoting public awareness and knowledge on food safety.