Flavoured ice beverages are popular beverages in Hong Kong especially in summer. This type of beverage contains finely blended ice mixed with flavour, syrup and other ingredients based on consumer choices. Recently, there is media report alleged that flavoured ice beverages on sale in the local market exceeded the total bacterial count standard of the Taiwan authority. The media report also alleged that the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has not established standard for total bacterial count in cold beverages in Hong Kong.
According to the website of the Taiwan authority, the Taiwan standard of bacterial count for flavoured ice beverages should follow the "Sanitation Standard for Ice Products", i.e. total bacterial count less than 100,000 cfu/g, rather than the "less than 200 cfu/g" as quoted in the media report. As such, the bacterial count detected in the samples as quoted in the media report (i.e. 126 – 566 cfu/g), have not exceeded the Taiwan authority standard.
In fact, Hong Kong has established microbiological criteria for cold beverages. The Microbiological Guidelines for Food (the Guidelines) group ready-to-eat food into different categories based on the ingredients used and the manufacturing process, and established relevant microbiological criteria. For flavoured ice beverages, in general, non-prepackaged cold beverages with solid ingredients but without dairy components (iced green tea with red bean, etc.) belongs to Food Category 5, while non-prepackaged cold beverages with solid ingredients and dairy components (iced milk tea with pearl tapioca, etc.) belongs to Food Category 6. According to the Guidelines, cold beverages (e.g. iced green tea with red bean, and iced milk tea with pearl tapioca, etc.) with total bacterial count less than 100,000 cfu/g is classified as satisfactory, and the sample should not contain E. coli at level higher than 100 cfu/g. Therefore, the total bacterial count and E.coli number of the samples, as quoted in the media report, have not exceeded the Guidelines levels.
Furthermore, the Guidelines established microbiological criteria for Listeria monocytogenes (i.e. the listeria species that can cause disease), rather than the whole genus of listeria bacteria including those non-pathogenic species. The report has not stated clearly that the detected level belonged to Listeria monocytogenes, rather than the whole genus of listeria bacteria. The whole genus of listeria bacteria are universally found in the environment. However, only the Listeria monocytogenes is pathogenic to human. Non-pathogenic listeria species are more common found, but the pathogenic Listeria monocytogenes is uncommon.
During 2013 – 2015, the CFS has collected more than 400 food samples, including flavoured ice beverages, edible ice and non-bottled drinks for microbiological testing, all results are satisfactory.