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Food Safety Focus ( 102nd Issue, January 2015 ) – Food Incident Highlight

Regulatory Approaches of Sale of Oilfish and Escolar

Recently, local media reported a case of oily diarrhoea which was suspected to be related to the consumption of oilfish sold as swordfish.

Oilfish ( Ruvettus pretiosus ) and escolar ( Lepidocybium flavobrunneum ) are marine fish rich in fat and contain wax esters which are indigestible by humans. If the fish is not prepared properly and/or eaten in large quantities, it may cause stomach cramps and oily diarrhoea in some individuals as in the oilfish incident in 2007 where cases of oily diarrhoea were reported after consumption of fish products labelled as "cod fish".

The oily diarrhoea does not cause significant loss of body fluid and is not life-threatening. In Hong Kong, like other places such as Australia, Canada, the UK, the US and Singapore, the sale and import of oilfish and escolar is permitted. However, members of the trade must not falsely describe their products and should provide proper label for consumers to make informed choices. Traders may make reference to the guidelines issued by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) on the identification and proper labelling of oilfish.

Subsequent to the CFS's initial investigation, the case has been referred to the Customs and Excise Department.