Plasticisers in food

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Plasticisers (Q. 1.1-1.11)Plasticisers and Food Safety (Q. 2.1-2.6)Plasticisers and Health Concern (Q. 3.1-3.10)Surveillance and Control Measures (Q. 4.1-4.8)

Surveillance and Control Measures

4.1) What is the maximum limit for DEHP in food set by the CFS?
The CFS has set an action level of 1.5 mg/kg for DEHP in food. The action level was endorsed by the Expert Committee on Food Safety. The Expert Committee noted that as food may be contaminated by DEHP in the environment, a zero tolerance approach may not be applicable for setting the limit of DEHP in food. Among countries with specific migration limit for DEHP for food contact materials, a maximum limit of 1.5 mg/kg was set. In Hong Kong, the average food consumption including liquid and water of the population is about 3 kg/person/day. Even in the unlikely event that one third of the food consumed by a person is contaminated, if a maximum limit of 1.5 mg/kg for DEHP in food is set, the exposure to DEHP of a 60-kg adult will be 0.025 mg/kg body weight/day. This exposure is within the WHO's TDI, and public health is adequately protected.

This action level is not applicable to distilled spirits. As distilled spirits are not considered as a normal part of the diet of the general population and some plasticisers (including DEHP) are highly soluble in alcohol, it is not appropriate to apply the above action level to distilled spirits. Taking into account the risk assessment result and relevant European data, the CFS has set a separate action level of 5 mg/kg for DEHP in distilled spirits.

4.2) Under what circumstances will the FEHD issue a section 78B order to prohibit the import of Taiwan food to Hong Kong?
Under section 78B(2) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) will make a section 78B order to prohibit the import of food for the period specified in the order if the DFEH has reasonable grounds to believe that the making of the order is necessary to prevent or reduce a possibility of danger to public health or to mitigate the adverse consequence of a danger to public health. Hence, the DFEH, when deciding whether to prohibit the import of problematic Taiwan food products, will take into full consideration the test results of DEHP found in food and the risk management actions taken by the relevant authorities in Taiwan and even in other countries, as well as the DEHP levels detected in the food samples taken in Hong Kong and results of overall risk assessment.

4.3) What follow-up actions will be taken by the CFS against other problematic food products withdrawn from shelves in Taiwan?
The CFS will continue to closely liaise with Taiwan authority to keep abreast of the latest development. If the affected food products are found to have sold to Hong Kong, we will contact the relevant importers and distributors for follow-up actions. Also, the CFS will continue to conduct sales check and take samples for testing if there are the affected foods in the market. The CFS will step up the testing for the five high-risk food categories including sports drinks, flavoured juice, tea beverages, fruit jam/syrup, and powder and tablet supplement. All test results will be released on our website.

4.4) Does the CFS take food samples other than Taiwan products under the five high-risk categories for testing?
Apart from Taiwan products, the CFS will take samples of similar food and drinks from other places (including Hong Kong and the Mainland) for testing. Also, the CFS will monitor the reports of other food products containing plasticisers, collate relevant information and take samples of these products for testing when necessary.

4.5) What follow-up actions will the CFS take to protect public health in response to the recent cases related to the sale of plasticiser-tainted drinks in some local Taiwan-style drink shops?
From 9 June 2011 to 29 July 2011 , a total of nine drinks from eight Taiwan-style drink shops were found to contain the plasticiser of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). The DEHP levels, ranging from 3.1 ppm(mg/kg) to 36 ppm(mg/kg), exceeded the CFS's action level. Plasticisers of di-isononyl phthalate ( DINP) and di-butyl phthalate (DBP) were not found in those samples. In response to these incidents, the CFS has instructed the shops to stop selling the products concerned, traced the ingredient supplier(s) of the drinks and taken samples for testing.

Besides, the CFS has actively contacted the persons-in-charge of similar drink shops to remind them to take appropriate measures to ensure that the products for sale do not contain any plasticisers and are in compliance with local legislation. The measures include checking with the suppliers the sources of food ingredients as well as whether the ingredients have been tested and certified to be free of plasticisers.

Apart from urging the trade to initiate suspension of the sale and use of any products suspected to be contaminated by plasticisers, the CFS will step up sampling of Taiwan-style drinks for testing. Should the level of plasticisers detected exceeds the CFS's action level, we will immediately instruct the shop(s) concerned to stop selling the products. We will also mark and seal the ingredients concerned, conduct follow-up investigations and take appropriate enforcement actions.

Drink samples from Taiwan-style drink shops with unsatisfactory results in testing of plasticizers

4.6) Is there any flexibility for the action level for plasticisers? Will it be more reasonable to adopt daily tolerance level instead of daily intake limit as the action level?
The action level for plasticisers was set by making reference to the tolerable daily limit that had been reckoned after toxicological studies of animals taking in plasticisers. Once the action level was exceeded, risk assessment would be conducted, and the follow up actions taken by CFS would depend on the level detected and risk assessment results.

4.7) Will tests for other plasticisers be conducted in addition to the three currently being focused on?
To protect public health, appropriate risk assessment and corresponding tests will be conducted if harmful substance (including other plasticizers) is found in any food product. You may wish to visit the CFS's webpage for the latest development on the issue:

4.8) Can the results of testing for satisfactory samples be announced as "Passed" only instead of listing out the actual data of testing results for these items?
The need of listing out the figures for satisfactory samples was attributed to the advice of The Ombudsman in the Melamine incident occurred in 2008. All food items with satisfactory results were considered safe for general consumption from the angle of risk assessment but the consumer had the liberty of making their own decision on consumption based on the results released.