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Feature Article

Antimicrobial Resistance and Food Safety

The Government launched the Hong Kong Strategy and Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (2017-2022) in July 2017.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microbial pathogens change in ways that render the medications used to cure the bacterial infections they cause ineffective.  AMR is not only a global health concern but also a great threat to the world economy.  We should adopt a multi-sectoral and whole-of-society approach involving the medical, veterinary, agricultural and food sectors to take collective actions in minimising the spread of AMR.

Food can be a medium of transmission of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms.  We may be infected due to unhygienic practices or consumption of contaminated food.  Observing good hygiene practices and paying attention to personal and environmental hygiene during food preparation are effective means to prevent foodborne illnesses, regardless whether they were caused by AMR microorganisms or not.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has all along been advocating the “5 Keys to Food Safety” to the food trade and consumers.  Whether or not AMR pathogens are concerned, these safety tips are conducive to the prevention of foodborne diseases.

The “5 Keys to Food Safety” put forward by the World Health Organization (WHO) are simple and effective ways to prevent foodborne illnesses.  They include:

  1. Choose (Choose safe raw materials)
    • Buy from hygienic and reliable shops, not illegal hawkers.
    • Select fresh foods and look for intact packaging.
    • Read food labels carefully and choose items that have not passed the expiry date when buying prepackaged foods.
  2. Clean (Keep hands and utensils clean)
    • Observe good personal hygiene.  Wash your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds before handling food, after handling raw meat or poultry, as well as after sneezing, handling rubbish, going to the toilet, changing nappies and playing with pets.
    • Preserve environmental hygiene.  Always maintain the kitchen clean and keep insects, pests and animals out of the kitchen.  Wash utensils and worktops thoroughly with water and detergent after use.
  3. Separate (Separate raw and cooked food)
    • Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other food items in your grocery cart and shopping bags.
    • Refrigerate food in covered containers.  Store ready-to-eat or cooked food items above raw meat, poultry and seafood to ensure that juices from the raw food will not drip onto them and cause cross-contamination.
    • Use separate utensils to handle raw food and cooked/ready-to-eat food.  Keep one utensil for food tasting and another for stirring or mixing food. 
  4. Cook (Cook thoroughly)
    • Defrost frozen food before cooking.  Thawing can be done by using a microwave oven, keeping the food in the thawing compartment of the refrigerator or putting it under running water.  Remember that thawed food should be cooked thoroughly.
    • When cooked meat and poultry are cut, their juices should run clear, the meat should not be red in colour and there should not be blood running out.  The yolk of a cooked egg should be firm.
    • Bring soups and stews to a boil for at least one minute. 
  5. Safe Temperatures (Keep food at safe temperatures)
    • The safe temperature for food is above 60°C or at 4°C or below.  Keep food at safe temperatures to prevent speedy multiplication of microorganisms.
    • Check the temperature of the refrigerator with a thermometer.  Ensure that the refrigerator is kept at 4°C or below and the freezer at -18°C or below.
    • The refrigerator should not be overstuffed.  Allow enough space for the cold air to reach every part of the refrigerator so that all food items are evenly chilled.
    • Consume food promptly after cooking.  Do not leave cooked food at room temperatures for more than two hours.
    • Promptly cool leftovers and store them in the refrigerator within two hours.
    • If hot food is not eaten immediately, keep it at above 60°C prior to serving.

Readers' Corner

Edible Ice Contaminated with Coliform Bacteria

Meat and meat products

Edible ice is widely used in food preparation (e.g. cold drinks).  Its hygienic quality and safety is an important concern.  If not manufactured or handled properly, edible ice can potentially be a vehicle for widespread transmission of foodborne diseases.

In July 2017, an edible ice sample collected under the routine Food Surveillance Programme of the CFS was found to contain excessive coliform bacteria.  This article discusses the potential sources of microbiological contamination in edible ice and the preventive measures to avoid the associated risks.

Sources of Edible Ice in Food Premises

In general, edible ice in retail outlets comes from two major sources: (1) ice manufacturing plants, where ice is prepared and packaged for delivery to food premises; and (2) individual food premises, where ice is prepared in-house, such as with the aid of an ice-making machine.

Potential Microbiological Contamination of Edible Ice

Water sources can directly affect the quality and safety of the edible ice manufactured.  Generally speaking, mains water supply is a standard licensing requirement for ice manufacturing plants/food premises, whereby some form of guarantee of the microbiological quality of source water is provided.  After production, edible ice can be contaminated due to lapses in hygiene in handling the ice at the ice plant, during transportation and at food premises.  Moreover, during transportation or storage of edible ice, the outsides of the bags may be contaminated with microorganism, which can subsequently cross-contaminate the ice during opening and emptying of the bags.  Poor maintenance of ice-making machines, infrequent cleansing of utensils (e.g. buckets and scoops) and unhygienic handling practices (e.g. touching the ice with bare hands) are also potential sources of microbiological contamination of edible ice.

Preventive Measures

Potable water supply and good hygienic practices are prerequisites for producing quality edible ice.  The external surface of ice bags should be cleaned and dried with a clean cloth before opening and emptying the bags.  When filling a bucket with edible ice, take note that the outside of the ice bag and the bare hand do not come into contact with the ice.  In addition, use clean utensils such as a scoop, rather than bare hands, to hold or remove edible ice.  The scoop should be cleaned at the end of the day and whenever necessary.  Do not use edible ice storage chests for cooling or storing other items (e.g. canned/bottled beverages).  If edible ice is produced with ice-making machines at food premises, the machines should be regularly cleaned and properly maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Microbirlogical Criteria for Edible Ice

The microbiological criteria for edible ice are set out in the Microbiological Guidelines for Food published by the CFS.  Apart from specific foodborne pathogens, the Guidelines also lay down the criteria for aerobic colony count (ACC), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and coliform bacteria in edible ice.  ACC is an indicator of quality, while E. coli is a faecal indicator organism which generally denotes direct or indirect faecal contamination.  As for coliform bacteria, their high counts in edible ice generally indicate unsanitary conditions or poor hygienic practices during ice production or the handling process.

Action Taken

Regarding the food premises where edible ice was identified with excessive E. coli, the CFS has informed the person-in-charge of the premises of the irregularity and instructed the operator to stop selling cold drinks with ice cubes.  Health education on food safety and hygiene was also provided to the person-in-charge and the staff concerned.  Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the premises have been carried out as advised by the CFS.

Key Points to Note

  1. The hygienic quality and safety of edible ice are very important as the ice can potentially become a vehicle for spreading foodborne diseases.
  2. High coliform counts indicate unsanitary conditions or poor hygienic practices during the production or handling of edible ice.
  3. Observe good hygienic practices when handling edible ice to minimise the risk of ice contamination. 

Advice to the Public

  • Use potable water to prepare edible ice. 
  • Use clean utensils to prepare and store edible ice.
  • Avoid cross-contamination during storage and handling of edible ice.

Metallic Contaminants and Food Safety

Metals are natural components of the earth's crust and are ubiquitous in the environment.  We need some metals such as copper, chromium, manganese and selenium in a trace amount for normal body functions, but excessive exposure can have negative implications.  Some metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead serve no functional purpose and are harmful to our body.

Adverse Health Effects of Metallic Contaminants

Red Swamp Crayfish

Exposures to metallic contaminants may lead to multiple adverse health effects.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified arsenic, cadmium, chromium (VI) and nickel compounds as human carcinogens (Group 1), while lead, mercury and manganese exposures can have deleterious effects on the nervous system.  Moreover, a metal can be more toxic in certain chemical forms (e.g. inorganic arsenic and methylmercury) than other forms (e.g. organic arsenic and inorganic mercury).  The risks associated with taking food containing metallic contaminants also depend on their levels present in the food, the amount of contaminated food consumed, as well as the duration of exposure.

In the modern industrial world, the presence of metallic contaminants in food is in most cases unavoidable.  To protect public health, the levels of metallic contaminants in food should be as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) through best practices such as the Good Agricultural Practice and the Good Manufacturing Practice.  In general, from the consumers’ perspective, what we can do is to maintain a balanced diet so as to avoid excessive exposure to metallic contaminants from a small range of food items.

Listed below are some specific ways for the public to reduce their exposure to metallic contaminants from various major food contributors.

Arsenic in Rice

Arsenic is a metalloid that exists in inorganic and organic forms.  The IARC has concluded that arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).

Absorbed through water and the soil, arsenic may be present in many foods.  Rice in particular can take up more arsenic than other grains, and inorganic arsenic is considered the significant toxic form of arsenic in rice.

Studies have indicated that cooking rice with large amounts of water (from six to ten parts of water to one part of rice), and draining the excess water, can reduce inorganic arsenic in rice.  Moreover, there are studies showing that washing rice before cooking, even though it may wash off some nutrients, can lower the amount of inorganic arsenic in white rice.  Consumers may also consider choosing more other cereals and their products, e.g. noodles, oatmeal and bread, which generally contain lower levels of inorganic arsenic than rice.

Mercury in Fish

Mercury has three forms, namely liquid mercury, inorganic mercury and organic mercury.  Methylmercury, an organic form of mercury, is more toxic than inorganic mercury.  The primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development in foetuses, infants, and children.  Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother's diet, can adversely affect the developing brain and nervous system of a baby.

Fish is the major dietary source of methylmercury.  Predatory fish are more likely to accumulate a higher amount of methylmercury than non-predatory fish.  Women planning pregnancy, pregnant women and young children should therefore avoid eating certain types of fish which may contain high levels of methylmercury, such as shark, swordfish, marlin, alfonsino and tuna.

Nonetheless, consuming a variety of fish and keeping a balanced diet are important as fish contains many essential nutrients for our growth and development, such as omega-3 fatty acids and high quality proteins.  Women and young children in particular should include fish in their diets.

Lead in Vegetables

Lead contamination of food arises from various sources, including the air and the soil.  Chronic exposure to lead may lead to reduction of intelligence quotient (IQ) in children and an increase in blood pressure in adults.

Vegetables and their products are the main dietary source of lead (30% of the total exposure) in the local population.  Leafy vegetables are more vulnerable than non-leafy vegetables or root vegetables to deposition of airborne lead, such as that resulted from industrial pollution.

An adequate consumption of vegetables (daily intake of at least three servings, about 80g each) is an essential component of healthy eating.  Wash vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables, thoroughly in clean water before cooking can remove a significant portion of lead-contaminated dust and soil deposited on vegetable surfaces.  In addition, maintaining a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables, not just the leafy types, can avoid excessive exposure to lead from a small range of food items.

We will look into cadmium, another metallic contaminant of major public health concern, in the next issue.

News on New Dishes

Bamboo Pith Rolls with Asparagus and Elm Fungus

Mixed Veggie Curry with Rice

There is a growing awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits, such as “more vegetable and less meat” and “less salt, sugar and oil”.  In fact, an increasing number of people have begun to practise a vegetarian diet.  In this issue, Mr CHEUNG Wai-bun, head chef of Loong Yuen Cantonese Restaurant (a Food Safety Charter signatory at Holiday Inn Golden Mile) with over 30 years of culinary experience, will show us how a nutritious and appealing vegetarian dish “Bamboo Pith Rolls with Asparagus and Elm Fungus” is prepared.

  Preparation Steps Small Tips, Big Wisdom



Purchase the ingredients such as asparagus, bamboo pith, elm fungus, carrot, Chinese chives, Chinese wolfberries and seasonings from approved and reliable suppliers. Upon receipt of the ingredients, check carefully to ensure their freshness and quality.  Vegetables should be refrigerated at 4ºC or below, while dry ingredients should be kept in a store room under humidity control.  Foods should be consumed within their shelf life.  Stick to the “first-in-first-out” principle and use the earliest stocks with the shortest shelf life first.



Peel the asparagus and cut off the ends. Rinse the vegetables before use.  Presoak the Chinese wolfberries, bamboo pith and elm fungus in clean water and drain well.  Keep the ingredients refrigerated at 4ºC or below for later use. Rinsing the vegetables thoroughly under clean running water can effectively reduce the risk of intake of pesticide residues.  Soaking the ingredients in water can make them soft and easier to handle, as well as effectively remove mud, sand and other impurities on them.



Cut the asparagus and bamboo pith into small sections.  Slice the elm fungus.  Cut the carrot into chunks, each with the centre scooped out to form a “carrot stand”. Cutting the ingredients into small pieces can shorten the cooking time and make it easier to cook food thoroughly.



Blanch the asparagus strips, bamboo pith sections, elm fungus slices, carrot chunks and Chinese chives in boiling water for about a minute.  Take them out, drain well and put them on a plate. Slightly blanching the vegetables and fungi until half done before cooking can remove their peculiar odours, make the vegetables look fresh and green, and reduce the cooking time at later stages.



Stuff one strip of asparagus into a bamboo pith section and tie the roll with a piece of Chinese chives.  Place the rolls on the “carrot stands” and put a Chinese wolfberry on top of each roll.  Garnish the plate with elm fungus slices.  Steam the food in a steamer for about eight minutes. Cook the food thoroughly to ensure safe consumption.



Add salt, sugar, chicken powder/mushroom powder to corn flour water to make a thickened sauce.  Pour the sauce onto the steamed food.  Ready to serve.

Bring the sauce to a boil before pouring it onto the food.  Once prepared, the food should be consumed as soon as possible.

Tips from  Chef CHEUNG::

Picture of Chef CHUENG

  1. Vegetables should be provided by reliable suppliers on a daily basis to ensure their freshness.  Upon receipt of vegetables, check whether they are damaged or bruised.  To avoid overstocking, place orders for dry ingredients according to projected usage.  Dry ingredients should also be kept in a store room under humidity control.
  2. Elm fungus is listed among the “three mushrooms and six fungi” commonly found in vegetarian dishes.  It is rich in protein and vegetarian gelatin, and is good for our health.  Elm fungus should be soaked in water one day before use to make it soft and easier to handle.  Rinse it to remove the impurities on the surface.
  3. Because of the light flavour of the ingredients, it is mainly the thickened sauce that brings out the taste of the dish.  Chicken powder is a seasoning that makes the food more delicious.  Strict vegetarians or eaters who wish to further reduce salt in food may request substitution of chicken powder with mushroom powder.
  4. Loong Yuen Cantonese Restaurant adopts the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System, under which strict control and record keeping of the food production process are imposed to ensure that all products are hygienic and safe for consumption.

Food Safety Plan Corner

Bamboo Pitch Rolls with Asparagus and Elm Fungus


Asparagus, bamboo pith, elm fungus, carrot, Chinese chives, Chinese wolfberries and mushroom powder/chicken powder


  1. Collect the dry ingredients (bamboo pith, elm fungus and Chinese wolfberries) from the humidity controlled store room.
  2. Presoak the bamboo pith, elm fungus and Chinese wolfberries in clean water and drain well.  Keep the ingredients refrigerated at 4ºC or below for later use.
  3. Take out the vegetables (asparagus, carrot and Chinese chives) refrigerated at 4ºC or below.
  4. Rinse thoroughly the vegetables (asparagus, carrot and Chinese chives) and the soaked ingredients (bamboo pith, elm fungus and Chinese wolfberries).
  5. Peel the asparagus and cut off the ends.  Cut the asparagus and bamboo pith into small sections.  Slice the elm fungus.  Cut the carrot into chunks, each with the centre scooped out to form a “carrot stand”.
  6. Blanch the asparagus strips, bamboo pith sections, elm fungus slices, carrot chunks and Chinese chives in boiling water for about a minute.  Take them out, drain well and put them on a plate.
  7. Stuff one strip of asparagus into a bamboo pith section and tie the roll with a piece of Chinese chives.
  8. Place the bamboo pith rolls on the “carrot stands” and put a Chinese wolfberry on top of each roll.  Garnish the plate with elm fungus slices.
  9. Steam the food in a steamer for about eight minutes.
  10. Use mushroom powder or chicken powder to make a thickened sauce according to personal preferences.  Bring the sauce to a boil and pour it onto the food.  Ready to serve.

Production Process

Production Process

Briefing of Activities

Food Safety Day 2017

food safety day 2017

The Food Safety Day is an annual signature event of the CFS to kick-start a series of promotional activities.  The Food Safety Day 2017 cum Launching Ceremony for the “Salt/Sugar” Label Scheme for Prepackaged Food Products was held on 20 October 2017 at Kowloon Tong Education Services Centre.  The theme of this year’s Food Safety Day, “Hong Kong’s Action on Salt and Sugar Reduction: Read Labels, Choose Smartly”, was adopted to arouse public awareness of reduction of salt and sugar in food and the use of nutrition labelling for choosing food with less salt and sugar.

The officiating guests at the event included Mr Bernard CHAN, Chairman of the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food (CRSS); Mrs Cherry TSE, Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Food); Miss Vivian LAU, Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene; and Dr HO Yuk-yin, Controller of the CFS.

The highlight of the event was the “Salt/Sugar” Label Scheme for Prepackaged Food Products jointly organised by the CRSS, the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and the CFS, with the support of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, The Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong (CMA), The Hong Kong Food Council (HKFC), GS1 Hong Kong, PARKnSHOP, Coca-Cola China Limited and Vitasoy International Holdings Ltd.  The labels, available in colour and black and white with Chinese, English and bilingual versions, can be displayed on all prepackaged food products that are in compliance with the definitions of “low salt”, “no salt”, “low sugar” and “no sugar” under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W).

Colour version



Black and white version



The labels are modelled, with modifications, on the winning design of the Low-Salt and Low-Sugar Front-of-Pack Label Design Competition organised to promote the scheme.  Trade members are free to choose whether or not to participate in the scheme and determine the label size.  If they decide to use the labels, they only need to notify the CFS.  No prior approval from the CFS is required.

The label designs and details of the scheme can be found on the dedicated webpage on the CFS website.  Mr Bernard CHAN, Chairman of the CRSS, encouraged the food trade to actively take part in the scheme by displaying the “low salt”, “no salt”, “low sugar” and “no sugar” labels on prepackaged food products.  He hoped that prepackaged food products with the labels would be available in the market soon so that consumers could easily identify low-salt and low-sugar products with the help of a few simple and easy-to-understand labels.

To promote healthy eating and to raise students’ awareness of using nutrition labels to reduce dietary intake of salt and sugar, the CRSS, the FHB, the CFS, the Department of Health and the Education Bureau, in collaboration with the Committee on Home-School Co-operation, organised the Smart Choices for Low-Salt and Low-Sugar Slogan Writing cum Poster Design Competition in the year.  The prize presentation ceremony of the competition was held on Food Safety Day 2017.  The winners of each category are as follows:

Smart Choices for Low-Salt and Low-Sugar Slogan Writing cum Poster Design Competition ─ List of Awardees 

Slogan Writing Competition 

Chinese Slogan Group

Category Winner School
Junior Primary CHIU Hong-Kiu Tsung Tsin Primary School and Kindergarten
Senior Primary KWAN Wing-hang, Kena Kwong Ming School
Junior Secondary NG Cheuk-ying Ho Fung College (Sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen)
Senior Secondary LAI Long-hei Po Leung Kuk Lo Kit Sing (1983) College

English Slogan Group

Category Winner School
Junior Primary LIN Lok-yee S.K.H. Chu Oi Primary School
Senior Primary TSIU Chun-kiu Y. L. Long Ping Estate Wai Chow School
Junior Secondary HEUNG Tsun-wang T.W.G.Hs Li Ka Shing College
Senior Secondary YUNG Tsun-fung La Salle College

Poster Design Competition

Junior Primary Category

Prize Winner School
Champion CHENG Lok-wan S.K.H. Ho Chak Wan Primary School
First runner-up NG Hei-chung, Calvin Tin Shui Wai Government Primary School
Second runner-up LIANG Yat-ching Methodist School
Merit HAU Ming-yan, Dora Methodist School
Merit LAU Hui-yan, Alissa Canossa School (Hong Kong)
Merit WONG Yuet-ching SKH St. Clement's Primary School
Most Liked Award WONG Yuet-ching SKH St. Clement's Primary School

Senior Primary Category

Prize Winner School
Champion LAM Hei-yiu TWGHs Wong Yee Jar Jat Memorial Primary School
First runner-up KWOK Pui-yin Po Leung Kuk Castar Primary School
Second runner-up Yanki SUEN S.K.H. Chu Oi Primary School
Merit AU Wing-man Our Lady of China Catholic Primary School
Merit CHAN Chi-shun Yuen Long Public Middle School Alumni Association Primary School
Merit Hayson YEUNG Pun U Association Wah Yan Primary School
Most Liked Award LAM Hei-yiu TWGHs Wong Yee Jar Jat Memorial Primary School

Junior Secondary Category

Prize Winner School
Champion KWONG Wai-nog HKWMA Chu Shek Lun Secondary School
First runner-up NG Cheuk-ying Ho Fung College (Sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen)
Second runner-up KUNG Ching-lam Pui Ching Middle School
Merit POU Tsz-ching Tack Ching Girls’ Secondary School
Merit WU Tsz-wing Pope Paul VI College
Merit YEUNG Tsin-lok Elegantia College (Sponsored by Education Convergence)
Most Liked Award KUNG Ching-lam Pui Ching Middle School

Senior Secondary Category

Prize Winner School
Champion NG Tsun-ho La Salle College
First runner-up CHOW Yuk-chun

Hong Kong Teachers' Association Lee Heng Kwei Secondary School
Second runner-up NG Man-wing Tuen Mun Catholic Secondary School
Merit POON Kei-yau Pope Paul VI College
Merit HO Suet-mei Hong Kong Taoist Association Tang Hin Memorial Secondary School
Merit LI Hoi-tung Fukien Secondary School (Siu Sai Wan)
Most Liked Award CHOW Yuk-chun Hong Kong Teachers' Association Lee Heng Kwei Secondary School

A signing ceremony was staged on Food Safety Day 2017.  It was attended by representatives from Food Safety Charter signatories such as Windows-on the World Restaurants Ltd., The Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management Ltd., Institution of Dining Art, the CMA and the HKFC as a pledge of commitment to take appropriate measures to safeguard food safety and serve customers with healthy food prepared with less salt, sugar and oil.

The CFS hopes that the goal of reducing salt and sugar intake by the local population will be achieved through tripartite collaboration among the Government, the public and the food trade so that everyone can enjoy safe and heathy food.

Upcoming Activities

Thematic Exhibitions of Communication Resource Unit

The Communication Resource Unit (CRU) operates under the Risk Communication Section within the CFS of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.  Located on 8/F of Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building in Mong Kok, the CRU disseminates hygiene messages through a host of channels to enhance food safety in Hong Kong.

The CRU has a rich collection of resource materials on food safety and a variety of facilities, such as an exhibition hall, public and trade corners, a multi-purpose room and audio-visual facilities, which provide direct access to food safety information for the public and the trade.

In 2018, the CRU will mount exhibitions on different food themes of public concern.  Topics on safe handling of food include “5 keys to Food Safety”, “Proper Handling of Vegetable and Fruit” and “Prevention of Bacterial Food Poisoning”; while those on particular types of food include “10 Safety Tips for Serving Buffet”, “Know More About Organic Food” and “Do Not Eat Poisonous Puffer Fish”.  In addition, thematic exhibitions on topics such as “Listeriosis and Pregnancy” and “Know More About Food Allergy” will be held for people who need to pay special attention to food safety.  The themes of the exhibitions will be posted on the CFS website on a regular basis.  Please stay tuned and do not miss any information which is important and relevant to your health.

Food Safety Q&A

Do Processed Meats Contain Veterinary Drug Residues?

Q:    Do processed meats contain veterinary drug residues?

A:    Processed meats such as luncheon meat and some sausages are compound food with essential ingredients of meat, water and curing ingredients consisting of salt and nitrites.  Fat (in the form of animal fat or vegetable oil), spices, other ingredients and additives may also be added.  The components are processed raw and the resulting viscous batter is heated to make the end product. 

In mid-June 2017, the results of a local study on luncheon meat and canned sausages were released.  Antimicrobial residues were found in one luncheon meat sample.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), antimicrobial agents are essential for protecting human and animal health, as well as animal welfare.  Therefore the OIE advocates the responsible and prudent use of antimicrobials.  The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) Standards in relation to veterinary drug residues in different food items are specified in the “Codex Alimentarius Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) and Risk Management Recommendations for Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods”.  While the above study was concerned with the MRLs of veterinary drugs in compound food (e.g. luncheon meat), the relevant Codex MRLs are applicable to animal tissues.  In Hong Kong, a similar approach is adopted for the regulation of veterinary drug residues in food, i.e. maximum concentrations are applicable to commodities such as muscle, liver and kidney, but not compound food.  In general, competent authorities in other countries also apply MRLs in raw materials (i.e. animal tissues) in regulating potential food contamination by veterinary drug residues.

Truth against Fallacy

Does Vegetable Strapping Tape Contain Formaldehyde?

The media earlier reported that formaldehyde, a “carcinogenic toxin”, can be leached from the adhesive tape bundling the fresh produce onto the vegetable, making it unfit for consumption.

Formaldehyde is sometimes added inappropriately in food processing for its preservative and bleaching effects.  The common incriminated food items are soya bean sticks, mung bean vermicelli and hydrated food such as tripe and chicken paws.  Formaldehyde is also present in the natural environment.  It exists naturally in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables (e.g. cabbage, carrot), and in meats, fish, crustaceans, etc.  The adhesives used in vegetable strapping tapes may also contain formaldehyde.

The IARC considers that there is sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans upon occupational exposure to formaldehyde via inhalation.  However, the WHO pointed out in its Drinking Water Guidelines published in 2005 that there was no definitive evidence for carcinogenicity upon ingestion of the chemical.  Formaldehyde is readily soluble in water and highly volatile.  Ingestion of formaldehyde at low levels is unlikely to cause any acute effect.  However, high ingestion can result in acute toxicity, leading to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, coma, renal injury and even death.

Based on the available data and the risk assessment conducted by the CFS, there is no cause for undue concern over formaldehyde exposure from vegetables so long as a balanced diet is maintained and vegetables are thoroughly washed and cooked.

Brain Gym

Multiple Choice Question

Which are the reasons for using veterinary drugs in food animals?

1)      To improve feed efficiency for the purpose of enhancing animal growth.

2)     To ensure that the meat stay fresh and tasty.

3)     To increase production.

4)     To control the spread of diseases within a herd of food animals.

5)     To protect the health and welfare of food animals.

Answers: 1, 3, 4, 5

Enquiries and Subscription

Printed copies of the Food Safety Bulletin can be obtained from the Communication Resource Unit at 8/F, Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building, 123A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon. For enquiries, please call 2381 6096. The public may also visit the CFS website ( ) for the online version.

Enquiry hotline 2868 0000
E-mail address
CFS website