Food Safety Tips You Should Know When Travelling Abroad
Hong Kong people love to travel abroad. It is a good way to relieve stress and relax ourselves. We can also gain valuable experience by exploring the scenery and cultures of different places. In particular, with our passion for food, Hong Kongers are keen to seek out foreign culinary delights. While indulging in eating and drinking, we must, nonetheless, stay vigilant during travels to avoid contracting food- or water-borne diseases.
How to choose safe foods and beverages?
When choosing foods:
- Buy foods from hygienic and reliable stores. Do not patronise street food vendors with poor hygienic practices or who handle foods improperly.
- Ensure that foods are thoroughly cooked and served while hot.
Avoid raw or undercooked foods, especially when eating meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
- Avoid raw or unpasteurised milk and dairy products (e.g. cheese).
- Avoid cooked or ready-to-eat foods that have been kept at room temperature for hours.
- Avoid foods that are not kept hot above 60 ºC or refrigerated at or below 4 ºC.
- Check the expiry dates on food labels. Do not consume expired foods.
- Read and follow the storage instructions on food labels. Keep perishable foods at 4 ºC or below if they are not immediately consumed after purchase.
When choosing beverages:
Drink only boiled water and beverages made with boiled water.
- If it is not feasible to boil water, other water purification methods (e.g. chemical purifiers or water filters) can be considered.
- Avoid ice in drinks as ice cubes can be easily contaminated.
Wipe and clean the packaging of canned or bottled drinks before opening them for direct consumption. Check carefully when coming into direct contact with the mouths of the bottles/cans
Pathogenic microorganisms in the environment can be transferred to foods from unclean hands. We should wash hands thoroughly before handling and consuming food s when travelling abroad.
Antibiotics and Food Safety
When talking about "antibiotics", what usually come to mind are medicines for curing diseases. Has it ever occurred to you that antibiotics are also related to our daily foods?
Why are antibiotic residues present in foods?
Antibiotics are medicines that can kill bacteria or stop bacterial growth. They are widely used in human as well as veterinary medicine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately half of the current antibiotic production is for agricultural use, including food animal production. Antibiotics are used therapeutically to treat animals with infectious diseases and prophylactically to prevent illnesses or their spread within a herd. However, just like many other veterinary drugs, the administration of antibiotics to food animals has the potential of leaving residues in animal products such as meat and milk. Although not all antibiotic residues are unsafe for humans, the public health risk posed by the residues of some antibiotics (e.g. chloramphenicol) should not be overlooked.
Besides, we should be wary of the practice of some animal raisers to promote animal growth by adding low doses of antibiotics in the feed and/or water to increase the rate of weight gain and/or the efficiency of feed utilisation in food animals.
Consequences of improper use of antibiotics in food animals
Antibiotics are given to treat animal diseases, but they can cause serious consequences if improperly or excessively used. When antibiotics are administered to animals, they can kill or stop the growth of susceptible bacteria. However, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics can multiply at the same time, eventually leading to an antibiotic-resistant bacterial population. Long-term use of low-dose antibiotics is favourable for the survival and growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Humans can be subsequently infected by these bacteria through handling or consumption of contaminated foods or direct contact with animals harbouring them.
Should we stop using antibiotics?
Antibiotics can effectively control and prevent animal diseases, protect animal health and welfare, as well as satisfying the global demand for safe foods of animal origin. Nevertheless, misuse or overuse of antibiotics can have adverse effects on animal and human health. What should we choose? The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recommend prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics. In general, antibiotics should only be applied when genuinely required. Their use in food animals should be administered under veterinary supervision. Antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion without appropriate risk analysis.
How are antibiotics in foods regulated by law in Hong Kong?
The Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) (PHMSO) requires that all foods for sale must be fit for human consumption. In addition, the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations (Cap. 132AF) govern the import and sale of food containing harmful substances. The Regulations stipulate the maximum concentrations of certain antibiotics and veterinary drugs allowed in specified foods and prohibit the presence of residues of seven veterinary drugs (including two antibiotics) in any fish, meat or milk.
Advice to the trade
- Ensure that antibiotics given to animals are only used under veterinary supervision.
- Obtain foods of animal origin from suppliers that follow Good Practice in the Use of Veterinary Drugs.
- Fresh (i.e. not chilled or frozen) pork, beef and mutton should come from livestock slaughtered in local licensed slaughterhouses.
- The import of chilled/frozen meat or chilled/frozen poultry meat must be accompanied by an import licence from the Centre for Food Safety (CFS).
Carcinogens in Foods
Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of WHO, issued the latest evaluation report on the carcinogenicity of consumption of processed meat and red meat. IARC, based on the strength of evidence and not the level of risk, has classified processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" (Group 1) and red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2A). This reminds us again how eating habits and health are closely related.
Group 1 carcinogens are most worthy of concern as there is sufficient evidence of their carcinogenicity in humans. Agents in this category include aflatoxins, alcoholic beverages, benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), dioxins and Chinese-style salted fish. The foods in our daily diet may contain such carcinogens. It is not easy to remove these agents from our diets completely, but we can change our living habits and refrain from eating foods that contain these carcinogens. Let us find out some carcinogens more commonly found in Hong Kong foods and learn ways to avoid intake of these substances from food consumption.
Aflatoxins are a group of natural toxic contaminants produced by certain moulds. They are among the most potent carcinogens in nature and are conducive to the development of liver cancer, with hepatitis B carriers particularly affected. Human exposure to aflatoxins is mainly through the consumption of peanuts and maize, but aflatoxins can also be found in dried fruits, nuts, spices, crude vegetables oil, rice, etc.
While complete elimination of aflatoxins is not possible, food manufacturers can minimise the aflatoxin levels in foods by adopting good agricultural practices, thus avoiding rejection of the crops produced. The public, on the other hand, should purchase foods from reliable retailers, store grain products properly in cool and dry places, look out for the expiration date of foods and discard mouldy or damaged foods so as to reduce exposure to aflatoxins.
B[a]P is a type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which share similar toxicological properties. PAHs can be formed during incomplete combustion or pyrolysis of organic materials and are ubiquitous in nature. They are present everywhere in the environment and in different foods (including oils) at widely varying levels. By lowering the overall exposure to PAHs, it helps reduce exposure to B[a]P, and the same holds true for the reverse situation. Studies have suggested that cereals and oils are major sources of dietary exposure to B[a]P in humans. Locally, a study by the CFS in 2004 revealed that the higher the cooking temperature or the closer the distance from the heat source when preparing barbecued meats or during grilling, the more PAHs will be generated. PAHs can also be found at higher levels in foods during charcoal grilling than cooking with gas or electric roasting.
Members of the public should minimise exposure to PAHs as far as practicable. They should not over-indulge in barbecued meat, especially charcoal-grilled siu mei with the "skin and fat" portion. The charred parts of roasted meat should be removed before consumption. When preparing barbecued meat, we should take measures to avoid direct contact of the meat with flame and its fat from dripping onto the heat source. It is also advisable to grill meat at a lower temperature to prevent overcooking.
Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, fermentation or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Examples of processed meat include sausages, corned beef and jerky. In the course of preparing processed meat, such as during curing and smoking, carcinogens can be formed. Nitrates and nitrites used for curing meats may also be transformed to carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds by bacteria in the human digestive tract.
We should avoid excessive consumption of processed meat and maintain a balanced and varied diet. Adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise is the best way to prevent cancer. For application of food additives like nitrates, the trade should set maximum levels of use having regard to the minimum level required to achieve the desired effect.
News on New Dishes
Dragger on the Silver River ─ Steamed Garoupa Roll with Fig Sauce
Seafood is one of the favourite food choices of Hong Kong people. In this issue, we have invited Mr William MA, a seasoned cook with over 40 years of culinary experience, to present a cooking demonstration for us. Mr MA is the Chinese Executive Chef of Gloucester Luk Kwok Hong Kong, a signatory of the Food Safety Charter. The dish is called "Dragger on the Silver River ─ Steamed Garoupa Roll with Fig Sauce". Its essence lies in the fig sauce which gives the fish a refreshing taste and adds a nice finishing touch to the dish.
|Preparation Steps||Small Tips, Big Wisdom|
||Purchase a live garoupa, vegetables and other ingredients from approved and reliable suppliers.||
Upon receiving of the ingredients, check carefully to ensure their freshness and qualities.
Keep vegetables under refrigeration at 4ºC and the live garoupa in a fish tank with proper filtration and disinfection facilities.
||Gut the garoupa and rinse under water. Soak and rinse the vegetables and other ingredients thoroughly.||Rinsing vegetables under running water or soaking them in water can effectively reduce the risk of pesticide intake.|
Cut the garoupa fillet into 4 portions. Season with fine salt, cornflour and canola oil.
Peel the winter melon, cut it into cylinder-shaped pieces and scoop out flesh from the centre. Shred the white radish and carrot and thinly slice the Indian lettuce head.
|Cutting the ingredients into the required shapes can shorten the cooking time.|
Bring water to the boil and add fine salt. Divide the shredded white radish into 4 portions and form rolls by wrapping a baby Chinese cabbage leaf around each portion firmly. Season the rolls and winter melon pieces by soaking them in salted water. Steam for 5 minutes.
Form rolls by wrapping the Indian lettuce head slices around the garoupa meat and tie each roll tightly with a carrot strip. Steam for 3 minutes.
Presetting the exact time and temperature for steaming can ensure that the garoupa is thoroughly cooked and preserve the tenderness of meat.
Steaming is a healthier cooking method which can reduce the amount of cooking oil used and prevent the risk of formation of harmful substances during frying.
||Top the winter melon pieces with steamed white radish rolls, followed by garoupa rolls. Blanch the chopped broccoli until done for garnishing the dish.||Blanching the broccoli with boiling water can keep it bright green to give a better appearance.|
||Stew the dried figs with water for 4 hours beforehand. Add fine salt and cornflour to thicken the sauce before pouring it onto the garoupa rolls. Ready to serve.||Make sure the thickened sauce has been brought to the boil before pouring it onto the garoupa rolls. The food should be consumed immediately.|
Tips from Chef MA:
- Chef MA attaches great importance to the quality of ingredients. He suggests using a freshly gutted fish and avoiding over-seasoning (including overuse of monosodium glutamate) during cooking in order not to spoil the unique fresh taste of fish.
- The garoupa fillet can be substituted by other thick fish fillets. It is preferable to use meat from the back of a fish.
- After washing and draining the fish fillet dry, add a sprinkle of salt to enhance the fresh taste of fish.
- We can use a bamboo skewer to test whether the winter melon pieces are thoroughly cooked. It is advisable to set the slices aside after steaming to let heat penetrate the whole piece prior to skewer insertion.
Food Safety Plan Corner
Dragger on the Silver River ─ Steamed Garoupa Roll with Fig Sauce
Garoupa, vegetables, winter melon, white radish, carrot, Indian lettuce head, baby Chinese cabbage, broccoli and dried figs
Fine salt, cornflour and canola oil
- Rinse the gutted garoupa under water.
- Take out the vegetables which are kept under refrigeration at 4°C or below. Soak the vegetables for an hour before rinsing them under running water.
- Peel the winter melon, cut it into cylinder-shape pieces and scoop out flesh from the centre. Shred the white radish and carrot, and thinly slice the Indian lettuce head.
- Bring water to the boil and add fine salt. Divide the shredded white radish into 4 portions and form rolls by wrapping a baby Chinese cabbage leaf around each portion firmly. Season the rolls and winter melon pieces by soaking them in salted water. Steam for 5 minutes.
- Cut the garoupa fillet into 4 portions. Season with fine salt, cornflour and canola oil.
- Form rolls by wrapping the Indian lettuce head slices around the garoupa meat and tie each roll tightly with a carrot strip. Steam for 3 minutes.
- op the winter melon pieces with steamed white radish rolls, followed by garoupa rolls. Blanch the chopped broccoli until done for garnishing the dish.
- Stew dried figs with water for 4 hours beforehand. Add fine salt and cornflour to thicken the sauce before pouring it onto the garoupa rolls. Ready to serve.
Briefing of Activities
Communication Resource Unit
Mong Kok is Hong Kong people's favourite destination for gourmet delights and entertainment. Here you can also visit the Communication Resource Unit (CRU) of the CFS at Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building. Have you ever paid a visit to the CRU when dining and doing shopping in Mong Kok?
The CRU operates under the Risk Communication Section of the CFS. It provides a wide range of promotional leaflets and posters on food safety and healthy eating for interested members of the public. The exhibition hall of the CRU not only displays exhibition panels on different topics, it is also a venue where publicity and educational activities are organised for the public and the trade to participate from time to time. Earlier in May and June, two sessions of the CFS Trade Talk and Workshop on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) were held in the exhibition hall to highlight proper food handling practices to food personnel. The activities also aimed at promoting the adoption of the HACCP System and the Food Safety Plan, thereby enhancing food safety.
We look forward to seeing you at the CRU during its opening hours. Please browse the CFS website (www.cfs.gov.hk) for more information.
- 8/F, Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building, 123A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon
- Monday to Friday (except public holidays)
- 8:45 am - 1:00 pm
- 2:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Food Safety Talks on Preparation of "Poon Choi"
Autumn and winter months are drawing near. We will soon welcome the arrival of more traditional Chinese festivals. In recent years, "poon choi", a distinctive local cuisine customarily eaten on festival days, has been gaining popularity among Hong Kong people. Many restaurants prepare and/or sell "poon choi" to attract customers. More groups are also interested in organising "poon choi" feasts. As "poon choi" comprises a great variety of food ingredients, and its preparation involves complicated and time-consuming steps, the risk associated with food safety hazards is relatively high. To avoid these hazards, food handlers should pay attention to various risk factors when preparing the dish. CFS therefore presents food safety talks on the preparation of "poon choi" for the trade every year. Each restaurant will receive an invitation letter and an enrolment form listing the dates, time and venues for the talks. Members of the trade are welcome to take an active part in these events.
Food Safety Q&A
What Should Be Noted For Selling Foods Online?
With the growing popularity of online shopping, many vendors have opened online stores putting up different products (including foods) for sale. The trade should bear in mind that online sale of foods, like the conventional business mode, is regulated by the same food safety legislation pertaining to the import, advertising and sale of food products.
Vendors should note that certain types of high-risk imported foods (e.g. milk, milk beverages, frozen confections, game, meat, poultry and eggs) are governed by the subsidiary legislation of PHMSO. The import of game or eggs requires the prior permission of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Moreover, the import of meat, poultry or eggs is confined to sources recognised by FEHD. For the release of imported foods, importers are further required to provide a health certificate issued by an issuing entity of the exporting country/place of origin. Please visit the CFS website (http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/import/import_ifc.html) for details on imported food controls.
As far as licences are concerned, online operators should obtain relevant food business licences/permits as required by law, having regard to their modes of operation and the food types for sale. FEHD has prepared a permit for application by online operators selling restricted foods without actual physical premises. Under the permit, restricted foods for sale online must be obtained from lawful sources, and they shall be stored under hygienic conditions at safe and proper temperatures at all times during transport to enhance food safety. The operators shall also list information related to the permit on their websites for reference by consumers and their verification on the FEHD website.
For online selling of food at premises issued with food business licences/permits, the operators are likewise required to display their licence/permit information on their websites for viewing by consumers. They should also ensure food hygiene and safe and proper storage temperatures at all times during delivery of foods.
Furthermore, operators selling, advertising or displaying prepackaged foods online shall comply with the food labelling requirements of the relevant legislation. Please refer to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W) for detailed information on the provisions.
Apart from the above requirements, any person who carries on a food business (including importation or distribution) must register as a food importer or distributor and maintain records on food movement as stipulated in the Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612). The operator should also conform to the primary legislation (Part V) and subsidiary legislation of PHMSO.
In short, same as opening a physical shop, online food business operators should ensure that their food for sale is safe for consumption. It is incumbent on them to pay attention to and comply with the relevant food legislation.
Truth against Fallacy
Are Colourful Foods Harmful to Health?
Ming and Pat went shopping at a supermarket today...
|Ming:||I wonder if there are any new products launched lately?|
|Pat:||Yes, here you are. A new brand of biscuits. Do you want to have a try?|
|Ming:||These biscuits are so colourful. Red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, deep blue, purple and various colours. Lots of artificial colourings must have been added. The less they are consumed, the better.|
|Pat:||Well, among the commonly used artificial food colourings, some are synthetic and some are natural.|
|Ming:||I didn't know that natural food colourings were available. I thought all colourings were artificial chemicals.|
|Pat:||Of course not. For example, β-carotene may be added to fruit juices. As its name suggests, this colouring can be found in carrots in our daily diet. Moreover, people may use turmeric obtained from rhizomes of plants to provide the intense colour of yellow curry powder or mustard.|
|Ming:||Oh, I see! But how can I tell whether a food contains additives other than food colourings?|
|Pat:||If you want to have a clear understanding of the ingredients of a food product, you can read the food label on the packaging before purchase. The ingredient list shown on the label sets out the ingredients in descending order of weight or volume determined as at the time of their use when the food was packaged. As for food additives that you are concerned about, they are declared in the ingredient list by both the functional class and the specific name or the identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives.|
|Ming:||I've got it now.|
Rules: Players throw the dice in turn and make the number of moves from the START to the FINISH according to the numbers rolled and the instructions shown on the game board. The first player to land on the FINISH wins. If the number shown exceeds the number of steps required to reach the FINISH, the piece should be moved backward. The game is concluded when a player moves his/her piece to the FINISH with an exact roll of the dice.
Return to square 9.
Move to square 12.
|Question 1 :||A friend has returned to Hong Kong from a trip with some egg rolls as snacks and small gifts. The egg rolls are without a proper health certificate. Does this constitute a breach of law?|
|Question 2 :||After visiting his hometown in mainland China, my relative has brought some raw pork into Hong Kong without a proper health certificate for dinner use. Is this a breach of law?|
|Question 3 :||For physical premises issued with food business licences/restricted food permits, is it necessary for the operators to apply for a permit for online sale of restricted foods?|
|Question 4 :||A colleague has bought some salmon sushi for lunch in the office. At what temperature should the sushi be stored if it is not consumed immediately?|
Question 1: No.
Question 2: Yes.
Question 3: No.
Question 4: At or below 4 ºC.
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 (www.cfs.gov.hk) for the online version.
|Enquiry hotline||2868 0000|