Only 12 of 6,100 food samples tested by the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety last month returned “unsatisfactory” results, the city’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department reports.

The Food Safety Report for December 2009 for the special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China gives the public up-to-date data on the Centre for Food Safety’s work.

The foods and the number tested were: Fruits & Vegetables (3,400); Meats and Poultry (500); Aquatic products (700); Milk and milk products (600); Cereal and grains (200); and others (700).

During December, the Centre for Food Safety did 5,100 chemical tests, 900 microbiological tests, and 100 tests for radioactivity.  It uses chemical tests to find pesticides, preservatives, and metallic contamination.  Microbiological tests are used to find dangerous pathogens.

It found 99.9 percent of the 3,400 fruit and vegetable samples tested were safe to eat.  The Centre previously disclosed information about the five samples with problems.

Only 3 of the 500 meat and poultry samples were found to have problems.  Two samples of fresh beef tested positive for Sulphur dioxide, which Hong Kong does not permit in fresh meat.  One sample of cooked chicken tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly present in human skin, hair, and nasal cavities.  High doses in food indicate cross contamination from food handlers due to poor personal hygiene.

Only two of 700 tests of aquatic products came back with problems.  High mercury was found in a sample of frozen swordfish.  The other problem was with a frozen shrimp sample that came back with residues of the veterinary drug AOZ.

Milk and milk products were subjected to tests for Salmonella, Listeria, and other pathogens and for chemicals like melamine.   No problems were found in 600 tests during the month.

Cereals and grains are tested for preservatives, pesticides, and toxins.  Among the 200 tests were rice and noodles, flour and bread, and breakfast cereals.  No problems were discovered.

Another 700 foods were tested, including everything from Dim Sum to Eggs and egg products.  One sample of chicken noodles failed the test.  It was found contaminated with Staphylococcus, which might cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety said it traces food items failing its tests to the source, and asks vendors to stop selling the items.  It issues “Warning Letters” and takes additional samples for more analysis.

Prosecution actions may be taken where evidence is sufficient.