Test results of targeted surveillance on use of sulphur dioxide in meat (Phase III) released

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) today (January 9) announced the results of the third phase testing of a targeted food surveillance project assessing the use of sulphur dioxide in meat. Three out of 148 fresh meat samples tested contained the preservative, which is not permitted to be used in fresh, chilled or frozen meat.

Announcing the targeted surveillance results, a spokesman for the CFS said that the beef, pork and mutton samples were collected from fresh provision shops and market stalls between October and November last year for testing. The overall satisfactory rate was 98 per cent.

"The unsatisfactory samples, two fresh beef and one fresh pork, were collected from one fresh provision shop and two market stalls. They were found to contain sulphur dioxide at levels ranging from 84 parts per million (ppm) to 270 ppm," the spokesman said.

He added that follow-up actions have been taken, including issuing warning letters to the operators concerned and collecting follow-up samples. The CFS will closely monitor the situation and take prosecution action if there is sufficient evidence.

Sulphur dioxide is a commonly used preservative in a variety of foods including dried fruits, pickled vegetables and meat products such as sausages and grilled burgers, but under the Preservatives in Food Regulation (subsidiary legislation of Cap 132), it is not permitted in fresh, chilled or frozen meat. Nonetheless, individual meat traders had been found illegally using sulphur dioxide to make the meat look fresher.

"Following repeated detection of the preservative in fresh meat samples, the CFS has launched targeted surveillance projects regularly to assess the use of the chemical in meat in recent years. Since last year, the CFS has been conducting the project in three phases and so far, three samples have been found unsatisfactory," the spokesman said.

The spokesman reminded the food trade to comply with the law and not to sell fresh, chilled or frozen meat adulterated with sulphur dioxide. Selling such meat is an offence which carries a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and six months' imprisonment.

Upon conviction, the FEHD will also suspend or cancel the fresh provision shop licence concerned under the Demerit Points System. For offences related to public market stalls, the tenancy will be terminated in accordance with the current mechanism.

The CFS will continue to closely monitor the situation and conduct blitz inspections on stalls with conviction records to ensure compliance.

Sulphur dioxide is of low toxicity. As it is water-soluble, most of it can be removed through washing and cooking. Upon normal consumption, it should pose no adverse health effects to humans. However, susceptible individuals who are allergic to sulphur dioxide may experience breathing difficulty, headache and nausea.

The spokesman advised members of the public to purchase meat from reliable market stalls or fresh provision shops. They should avoid buying or consuming meat which is unnaturally red and maintain a balanced diet to avoid excessive exposure to food preservatives from a small range of food items.

Ends/Thursday, January 9, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:31