CFS announces second-phase test results on Lunar New Year food

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department today (February 5) announced that among some 90 samples tested in the second phase of a recently completed seasonal food surveillance project on Lunar New Year (LNY) food, two were found to be unsatisfactory. A pre-packed pork floss cracker sample failed to declare a permitted preservative it contained while a pre-packed sliced rice cake was detected with a non-permitted preservative.

"The CFS announced the first-phase test results on LNY food last month, with all 470 samples passing the tests. As the LNY is around the corner, the Centre continued to conduct tests on seasonal foods. During the second phase of the project, the CFS collected 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 and dried aquatic products for microbiological and chemical tests," a spokesman for the CFS said.

Microbiological tests covered different food poisoning pathogens, such as Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus. Chemical tests targeted preservatives (e.g. sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid and sorbic acid), colouring matters (e.g. Sudan dyes), antioxidants and metallic contaminants (e.g. cadmium, mercury and arsenic).

"The unsatisfactory Wing Wah pork floss cracker sample (best before date: October 5, 2015; net weight: 120 grams) was taken at a shop in Wan Chai. The test result showed that it contained sorbic acid at a level of 240 parts per million (ppm), but it was not declared on the product's food label. The maximum permitted level of sorbic acid in bakery products is 1,000 ppm as prescribed in the law, but the preservative has to be declared on the food label. As for the Shanghai Tingtop sliced rice cake (best before date: June 18, 2015; net weight: 1,000 grams), it was taken at a supermarket in Tsuen Wan. The test result showed that it contained sorbic acid, a non-permitted preservative in rice cake, at a level of 340 ppm," the spokesman said.

"Sorbic acid is a preservative of low-toxicity. Based on the level detected in the rice cake sample, it is unlikely that the sample would pose any adverse health effect upon normal consumption. The CFS has taken follow-up actions on the unsatisfactory samples, including informing the vendors concerned of the testing results, instructing the vendors to stop selling the affected food items, and tracing the source and distribution of the food in question. The Centre will alert the trade to the incident, urging them to stop selling the products concerned," he added.

According to the Preservatives in Food Regulation (Cap. 132BD), sorbic acid is a permitted preservative in bakery products, but not in rice cake. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $50,000 and six months' imprisonment. Furthermore, the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W) require that all prepackaged food for sale in Hong Kong should list out the food ingredients on its list of ingredients. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $50,000 and six months' imprisonment.

The spokesman reminded the food trade to comply with the legal requirements, 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. Furthermore, the food trade should maintain a good record-keeping 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," the spokesman said.

"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," he added.

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

The CFS will continue to follow up on the above cases and take appropriate actions to safeguard food safety.

Ends/Thursday, February 5, 2015