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Food Safety Focus (49th Issue, August 2010) – Food Incident Highlight

Mercury in Canned Luncheon Meat

On 20 July 2010, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) issued a food alert advising the public not to eat a certain batch of "Greatwall Brand Chopped Pork and Ham" as the CFS received a food complaint regarding silvery droplets found in the can. Test result confirmed that the droplets are elemental mercury, which occurs in liquid state. As a precautionary measure, the distributing agent voluntarily recalled the batch of luncheon meat concerned.

Mercury is a heavy metal that occurs naturally in the environment. It exists in elemental, inorganic and organic mercury forms. In contrast to inorganic and organic mercury which can cause adverse health effects, elemental mercury is unlikely to pose a significant health concern as it is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract.

During the investigation, the CFS collected 23 follow-up samples for tests, among which 11 were of the same batch as the sample found to contain mercury. Results indicated that all samples did not contain mercury.

CFS officers visited the plant in Henan Province. It was noted that there was an accredited system of food safety control and an electronic monitoring system for key production points. The CFS also noted that mercury was not used or involved in the manufacturing process.

Judging from all investigation results, the CFS concluded that mercury should not appear in the product under normal manufacturing conditions. As to whether human factor was involved in the incident, there was insufficient evidence for the CFS to arrive at any conclusion. Till 10 August, the CFS had not received any further complaint about the same product containing mercury. The CFS would continue to monitor the situation through regular surveillance.

The affected canned luncheon meat "Greatwall Brand Chopped Pork and Ham" with "Best before date" as 17th January 2013.