Food Safety Focus (100th Issue, November 2014) – Incident in Focus

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Food Safety Focus (100th Issue, November 2014) – Incident in Focus

Substandard Lard and Its Products from Taiwan

Reported by Ms. Joan YAU, Scientific Officer,
Risk Management Section,
Centre for Food Safety

The incident of Taiwan "substandard lard" was first reported by Taiwanese authorities on 4 September 2014. Some of the affected products had been imported into Hong Kong. The Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) made a Food Safety Order (Order) on 14 September to prohibit the import into and supply within Hong Kong all lard/lard products produced by Chang Guann Co., Ltd in Taiwan on or after 1 March 2014 as well as all food products made with these lard/lard products, and to mandate recall and/or proper disposal of all concerned products. Further development of the incident is summarised in the following paragraphs.

Subsequent Development

Taiwanese authorities announced in early October that Cheng I Food Co. Ltd (Cheng I) and Ting Hsin Oil & Fat Industrial Co. Ltd. (Ting Hsin) were suspected to produce fats and oils fraudulently from substandard ingredients (such as lard for animal feed, beef tallow and coconut oil ingredients from unapproved sources in Vietnam). The scope of affected products extended beyond lard to involve beef tallow, margarine and shortening. Further investigation by Taiwanese authorities in early November revealed that Beei Hae Oil and Fats Co. Ltd. (Beei Hae) and Shyeh Chying Enterprise Co. Ltd. (Shyeh Chying) were also suspected producing substandard fats and oils.

Actions Taken

As Taiwanese authorities proceeded with their investigations, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) was not satisfied with the safety and quality of Taiwan's fats and oils as there were reasons to suspect that such malpractice in edible fats and oils production could have been systemic and went beyond lard to involve fats and oils of animal and plant origins. The FEHD has therefore taken precautionary measures to stop the import into and the supply within Hong Kong of all edible oils of both animal and plant origins from Taiwan from 15 October.

Since the fats and oils produced by Cheng I, Ting Hsin, Beei Hae and Shyeh Chying were suspected to have been produced from substandard ingredients as announced by Taiwanese authorities, the FEHD has reasonable grounds to believe that fats and oils from these four companies were very likely unfit for human consumption, unless there was formal notification from Taiwanese authorities to suggest otherwise. In addition, the FEHD's investigation revealed that some traders in Hong Kong had imported lards from the above companies. The FEHD had also received two earlier notifications from Taiwanese authorities that six food products made with Cheng I's substandard fats and oils had been exported to Hong Kong. To further safeguard Hong Kong's public health, the DFEH issued a second and a third Order on 29 October and 7 November, respectively. The two Orders prohibit the import into and supply within Hong Kong all edible fats and oils produced by the four companies, as well as food products manufactured with such fats and oils, and also mandate their recall in a systematic manner so as to ensure that they are no longer in circulation in the local market.

Since the incident was first unveiled, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has collected more than 200 samples of high-risk and possibly contaminated food products and lard for testing. The laboratory analysis is on-going. Except for two lard samples the peroxide value (a quality indicator) of which had exceeded the relevant Codex standard, so far all samples passed the tests. Considering public concern over the safety of edible oil, the CFS will step up the testing of edible oil in the coming year.

The CFS will continue to follow up on the incident and take appropriate actions including keeping close contact with Taiwanese authorities, conducting investigations and monitoring the recall. Furthermore, the CFS is considering establishing and adopting relevant new regulatory and import requirements for edible fats and oils.

Edible Fats and Oils in Hong Kong

Available trade statistics suggested that Taiwan appeared to be the major lard supplier (for both food and non-food uses) to Hong Kong (over 70% in terms of quantity of "lard and other rendered pig fat and poultry fat", without taking into account the re-export quantity) in 2013, followed by the Netherlands (~ 20%). As the import and supply of edible fats and oils from Taiwan are stopped currently, local food manufacturers and traders are advised to ensure the safety and quality of the products concerned when they need to explore new sources of supply.

Key Points to Note

Advice to the Trade

  1. Ensure the safety and quality of edible fats and oils when exploring new sources of supply.
  2. Maintain a good record keeping system on quantity and description of the food or food ingredients purchased, for example brand and product name, size, identifying codes, etc.

Advice to the Public

  1. Do not consume the affected products, including fats and oils, as well as their derived products.