CFS announces test results on Lunar New Year food

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department today (January 10) announced the results of a recently completed seasonal food surveillance project to assess the safety of Lunar New Year (LNY) food. Among the 675 samples collected, test result of one candied lotus seed sample was found to be unsatisfactory. The overall satisfactory rate was 99.9 per cent.

"The CFS collected different types of LNY food, including steamed puddings (e.g. turnip pudding and festive cake), fried dumplings (e.g. sesame balls and crispy triangles), candied fruits and vegetables, glutinous rice balls, seeds, dried vegetables, 'poon choi', dried aquatic products and Chinese preserved meat from local supermarkets, grocery stores, market stalls and restaurants in the past two months for microbiological and chemical tests," a spokesman for the CFS said.

Microbiological tests covered total bacterial counts and different food poisoning organisms, such as Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus. Chemical tests targeted preservatives (e.g. sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid and formaldehyde), colouring matters (e.g. Sudan dyes), antioxidants, metallic contaminants (e.g. cadmium, mercury and arsenic, etc) and toxins (e.g. aflatoxin).

"Test results showed that the candied lotus seed sample contained a preservative, sulphur dioxide, at a level of 580 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the legal limit of 500 ppm," the spokesman said.

"Sulphur dioxide is of low toxicity. Normal consumption of the unsatisfactory sample at the detected level would be unlikely to pose adverse health effects to consumers. Nevertheless, individuals who are allergic to this preservative may have symptoms like breathing difficulty, headache and nausea," he added.

Regarding the unsatisfactory sample, the CFS has taken follow-up action including source tracing, requesting the vendor concerned to stop the sale of the food item, and issuing a warning letter. If there is sufficient evidence, prosecution will be taken.

As "poon choi" is popular during the Chinese Lunar New Year, following the seasonal food surveillance on "poon choi" announced last month, the CFS continued to collect "poon choi" samples in this LNY food surveillance project for testing in order to ensure food safety and protect public health. Results were all satisfactory.

The spokesman reminded the food trade to follow Good Manufacturing Practice and use permitted food additives only in an appropriate manner. Retailers should source food from reliable suppliers, and conduct quality audits of incoming materials and end products to ensure that ingredients used are within legal standards. The food trade should also maintain a good recording system in accordance with the requirements of the Food Safety Ordinance to allow source tracing if needed.

The spokesman also advised consumers to buy LNY food from reliable retailers with good hygiene conditions; make sure the packaging of prepackaged cakes and snacks is intact and the products have not expired; refer to the nutrition information on labels for healthier food choices; and pay attention to the hygiene conditions of food containers and the personal hygiene of staff when buying non-packaged food (e.g. candied lotus seeds, nuts and melon seeds).

"Consumers should choose food products with natural colours. Bright white pistachios may have been bleached and melon seeds with unnatural gloss may have had mineral oil added. Consumption of these food products can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Festive cakes that are not for immediate consumption should be kept refrigerated. People should pay heed to expiry dates and reheat the products thoroughly before consumption, and discard those with mould or an abnormal smell or taste. Leftovers should not be stored in the refrigerator for longer than three days and should not be reheated more than once. Nuts and melon seeds should not be kept for a long time and mouldy ones should not be eaten," the spokesman said.

He reminded the public to maintain a balanced diet and avoid foods that are high in energy, sugar, salt, fat or cholesterol during LNY.

Ends/Friday, January 10, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:31