Sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid, and sorbic acid are preservatives commonly used in preserving fruits and vegetables.
Because of recent instances of excessive preservatives being detected in samples of dried fruits and pickled vegetables, the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) decided to take a closer look.
The CFS decided to include preservatives for fruits and vegetables in its “targeted food surveillance program.” It’s objective was to assess just how the preservatives are being used.
It analyzed 371 samples of pickled vegetables, including cucumbers, radish, leaf mustard, rakkyo, ginger, and chilies; and dried fruit, including dried mango, dried pineapple, dried raisin, apricots, plums, blueberries, and olives.
Preservatives were detected at levels exceeding Hong Kong’s legal limits in just 3.6 percent of the samples. Eight samples of preserved vegetables were found to have higher than allowed limits of sulphur dioxide and benzoic acid, and six samples of preserved fruit had higher than allowed levels of sulphur dioxide and sorbic acid.
Overall, the CFS found that 96.2 percent of the samples were within acceptable ranges for the preservatives. The fact that the preservatives tested are relatively low in toxicity means the samples that did test at higher levels probably do not pose a health problem, CFS reported.
Still, it warned food manufacturers to source food and ingredients only from reliable sources, adhere to good manufacturing practices, and to remember violating regulations on the use of preservatives can result in a $50,000 fine and six months in jail.
CFS is tracing the source of the food items that tested high, and will impose “stop sale” orders on those vendors. It will also do follow up sampling and issue warning letters to the vendors involved. It’s possible prosecution action could follow.
Hong Kong consumers were advised to only buy food from “reliable suppliers” and to maintain balanced diets to minimize risk. Normal consumption of fruits and vegetables should not pose a significant health risk because toxicity levels overall are relatively low.