1. Sulphur dioxide is a widely used food additive in the food manufacturing industry, including its use as a preservative in a variety of foods e.g. preserved fruits and fruit juice.
  2. In Hong Kong , the application of sulphur dioxide in fresh meat is not permitted under the Preservatives in Food Regulation of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Cap.132.

Risk Assessment and Public Health Significance

  1. Sulphur dioxide has the property of retaining the desirable fresh meat colour ( purplish-red or cherry-red ). Some fresh provision shops and market stalls use sulphur dioxide on one hand to retain the fresh meat colour so as to increase the display time of the meat, and on the other hand, to retain the colour of thawed meat to deceive customers into believing that such meat are fresh.
  2. The chemical may induce allergic reactions such as asthmatic attacks. Some people may complain of headache and nausea after ingesting this chemical.

Control Measures and Surveillance Findings

  1. The testing of sulphur dioxide in meat is included in our food surveillance programme.
  2. Apart from sending food samples to Government Laboratory, we also use a quick test to screen for sulphur dioxide in fresh meat.
  3. Any person found breaching the Preservatives in Food Regulation, Cap.132 for sale of meat containing sulphur dioxide will be prosecuted. The maximum penalty is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for 6 months.
  4. In 2007, a total of 487 fresh meat samples were taken for testing of sulphur dioxide resulting in 13 vendors being prosecuted.

Advice to the Public

  1. Patronise licensed and reliable meat shops.
  2. When buying food, the public is advised to note whether the retailers are observing personal, food and environmental hygiene.
  3. Do not buy or consume meat which is unnaturally red.

Advice to the Trade

  1. Do not use sulphur dioxide in fresh meat.
  2. Ensure the meat is stored under hygienic condition and suitable temperature.
  3. Obtain meat from approved and reliable source.

Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
January 2009