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Food Safety Focus (74th Issue, September 2012) – Food Incident Highlight

Plastic Pellets, POPs and Marine Fish

Last month, tonnes of polypropylene (PP) plastic pellets split into Hong Kong waters and scattered in fish culture zones when the shipping containers carrying the plastic cargo were knocked into the sea during Typhoon Vicente. Impact on marine ecology has been the major concern in the wake of the incident. Since there have been also some concerns over food safety of marine fish, this article will talk about this aspect.

PP is a non-toxic plastic material commonly used in food packaging such as yoghourt containers, feeding bottles and disposable containers for take-away meals. When released into the sea, these pellets can adsorb environmental contaminants, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), over time and be mistaken as food by marine fish.

Since marine fish caught locally and farmed in Hong Kong waters only constitute a small part of our diet, the increased food safety risk is unlikely to be significant due to the consumption of the contaminated fish. Furthermore, the continued effort of removing the scattered pellets could reduce the chance of marine fish encountering any possible pollutants on the pellets. Although traces of plastic pellets were found in fish samples captured in fish culture zone, as of 12 September 2012, the Centre for Food Safety has detected no plastic pellets from the 810 fish samples collected from the wholesale and retail markets. There is no cause for undue concern over food safety due to the accidental consumption of the plastic pellets by marine fish.

Although the food safety risk remains low, members of the public are advised not to eat fish with an abnormal appearance, smell, or taste, or dead fish on the beach. Fish should be washed thoroughly, and their internal organs removed, before cooking.