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Food Safety Focus (71st Issue, June 2012) – Food Incident Highlight

Formaldehyde in Fresh Vegetables

Following recent media reports on the use of formaldehyde, a chemical not permitted for use in food in Hong Kong, to keep Chinese cabbage in transit fresh in the Mainland, the Centre for Food Safety has collected vegetable samples from the local market for testing. All samples were found negative for formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a chemical used mainly for the production of plastic resins but can also be used as fungicides or preservatives in cosmetics. Although formaldehyde is not a permitted food additive according to the regulations, it occurs as a natural metabolic intermediate at low levels in a wide range of raw foods including fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, crustacean, dairy products, etc. Ingestion of small amount of formaldehyde is unlikely to cause any acute effects.Furthermore, since formaldehyde is soluble in water and highly volatile, as a precautionary measure, consumers are advised to thoroughly wash and soak vegetables in water and adequately cook them before consumption. Also, traders should not add formaldehyde to food.