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A busy food safety day in Hong Kong

Finding excessive cadmium in imported cooked snow crab, a preservative not permitted in vinegar, and excessive pesticide residues in three vegetable samples made for a busy Friday at Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety (CFS).

The unit of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department reported the findings going into the weekend, warning food businesses to stop using or selling the products. Investigations are ongoing and charges could bring some big penalties.

CFShongkong_406x250The cooked snow crab with excessive cadmium originated from Fortuna Island Food Ltd., an importer from Japan. The snow crab went to AEON, a retailer, and carried a use-by date of Oct. 6, 2016.

“Subsequent to announcing that crab samples collected at several retail outlets were detected with excessive cadmium earlier, the CFS further found a crab sample of the same kind collected from one of the outlets containing cadmium at a level of 8.1 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the legal limit of 2 ppm,” a CFS spokesman said.

“The CFS has informed the importer and retailer concerned of the irregularity and learned that they have stopped sale of the product in question. The CFS is also tracing the source and distribution of the affected product. Should there be sufficient evidence, prosecution will be instituted,” the spokesman added.

According to Hong Kong’s Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations (Cap 132V), any person who sells food with metallic contamination above the legal limits is liable upon conviction to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

The spokesman said that edible portions of a crab’s cephalothorax (mainly consists of internal organs such as crab roes and hepatopancreas) are generally tainted with higher levels of cadmium and other contaminants. People who consume more crab should avoid consuming the cephalothorax. Businesses were also advised to ensure that all foods sold in Hong Kong comply with the legal requirements.

As for the Gold Plum brand of Superior Mature Vinegar made by Jiangsu Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs I/E Group Corp. located on mainland China, CFS sampling found it contained ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate at a level of 187 parts per million.

Hong Kong does not permit  use of the preservative at any level. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $50,000 and six months imprisonment. CFS has informed the restaurant concerned of the irregularity.

According to information provided by the restaurant, the bottled vinegar was purchased at a stall in Kowloon City Market and was served as a condiment for use by customers only. The restaurant has voluntarily surrendered the remaining portion of the bottled vinegar to CFS for disposal. The agency is tracing the source of the affected product.

Ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate is a preservative of low toxicity. Based on the level detected in the sample, it is unlikely that the sample would pose any adverse health effect upon normal levels of consumption.

CFS also found excessive pesticide residues exceeding legal limits in one bitter gourd sample, one Indian lettuce sample and one Chinese lettuce sample and is following up on the cases.

“The CFS collected the three samples at the import level for testing under its regular Food Surveillance Program,” the spokesman explained. “The test results showed that the bitter gourd sample contained cypermethrin at a level of 0.092 parts per million (ppm), about 1.32 times the maximum residue limit (0.07 ppm). The Indian lettuce and Chinese lettuce samples contained cyhalothrin at levels of 0.27 ppm and 0.49 ppm, e.g., 1.35 times and 2.45 times, respectively, of the maximum residue limit (0.2 ppm).

“Based on the levels of pesticide residues detected in the samples, adverse health effects will not be caused with usual consumption.”

Generally speaking, to reduce pesticide residues in vegetables, CFS tells consumers to  rinse vegetables several times under running water, then soak them in water for one hour, or blanch them in boiling water for one minute and discard the water. To further reduce the intake of pesticide residues, the outer leaves or peel of the vegetables can also be removed as appropriate.

Any person who imports, manufactures or sells any food not in compliance with the requirements of Hong Kong’s  Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap 132CM) concerning pesticide residues commits an offense and is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for six months upon conviction.

Since the regulation came into effect on August 1, 2014, CFS has taken over 84 300 food samples at import, wholesale and retail levels for testing of pesticide residues, and a total of 163 vegetable and fruit samples (including Friday’s unsatisfactory samples) have been detected as having excessive pesticide residues. The overall unsatisfactory rate is less than 0.2 per cent.

CFS will follow up on the unsatisfactory results, including tracing the sources and distribution of the food in question and taking samples for testing so as to safeguard public health. The investigation is ongoing.

Hong Kong is a city and autonomous territory on the Pearl River Delta containing more than 7.2 million people. It is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.

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