CFS announces food safety report for June

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department today (July 31) released the findings of its food safety report for last month. The results of about 15 300 food samples were found to be satisfactory except for 12 unsatisfactory samples. The overall satisfactory rate was 99.9 per cent.

A CFS spokesman said about 1 500 food samples were collected for microbiological tests, some 5 800 samples were taken for chemical tests and the remaining 8 000 (including about 7 600 taken from food imported from Japan) were collected to test radiation levels.

The microbiological tests covered pathogens and hygienic indicators, while the chemical tests aimed at detecting pesticides, preservatives, metallic contaminants, colouring matters, veterinary drug residues and others.

The samples comprised about 5 100 samples of vegetables and fruit and their products; 800 samples of meat and poultry and their products; 1 700 samples of aquatic and related products; 1 100 samples of milk, milk products and frozen confections; 1 000 samples of cereals, grains and their products; and 5 600 samples of other food commodities (including beverages, bakery products and snacks).

The 12 unsatisfactory samples comprised three samples, namely a potato sample, a white rice sample and a dried porcini mushroom sample, detected with cadmium, a metallic contaminant, at levels exceeding the legal limit; two vegetable samples detected with pesticide residues exceeding the legal limits; two frozen confection samples detected with counts of hygiene indicator organisms exceeding the legal limits; a dried Chinese white cabbage sample found to contain a trace amount of sudan dyes, a colouring matter not permitted in food; a frozen prawn sample detected with a permitted preservative, sulphur dioxide, undeclared; a fresh shrimp sample found to contain a trace amount of nitrofuran metabolite; a red tilapia sample found to contain a trace amount of malachite green; and a milk sample found with milk fat content below the legal requirement.

The CFS has taken follow-up action on the unsatisfactory samples including informing the vendors concerned of the test results, instructing them to stop selling the affected food items and tracing the sources of the food items in question.

Since the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap 132CM) came into effect on August 1, 2014, as of June 30 this year, the CFS had taken over 110 500 food samples at import, wholesale and retail levels for testing for pesticide residues. The overall unsatisfactory rate is less than 0.2 per cent.

The spokesman added that excessive pesticide residues in food may arise from the trade not observing Good Agricultural Practice, e.g. using excessive pesticides and/or not allowing sufficient time for pesticides to decompose before harvesting. The maximum residue limit (MRL) of pesticide residues in food is not a safety indicator. It is the maximum concentration of pesticide residues to be permitted in a food commodity under Good Agricultural Practice when applying pesticides. In this connection, consumption of food with pesticide residues higher than the MRL will not necessarily lead to any adverse health effects.

Nitrofurans are a family of chemical compounds which have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activities. Although there is evidence suggesting that nitrofurans might cause cancer in animals, there is not yet sufficient data confirming that it can cause cancer in humans. JECFA (Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) considered that competent authorities should prevent residues of nitrofurans in food. Nitrofurans have been prohibited for use in food-producing animals in many countries.

Malachite green is a type of industrial dye and has been used for treating infection in fish. Major agricultural economies such as the Mainland, the European Union, Canada and the United States prohibit the use of the chemical in food fish. According to the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations (Cap 132AF), no food sold in Hong Kong is allowed to contain malachite green. Offenders will be prosecuted and will be liable to a fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for six months upon conviction.

The spokesman reminded the food trade to ensure that food is fit for human consumption and meets legal requirements. Consumers should patronise reliable shops when buying food and maintain a balanced diet to minimise food risks.

Ends/Monday, July 31, 2017