The Center for Food Safety (CFS) of Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has released the findings of its food safety report for February. The results of about 9,200 food samples tested were found to be satisfactory except for four unsatisfactory samples which were announced earlier. The overall satisfactory rate was 99.9 per cent.

A CFS spokesman said about 900 food samples were collected for microbiological tests, some 1,600 samples were taken for chemical tests and the remaining 6,700 (including about 6,400 taken from food imported from Japan) were collected to test radiation levels.

harborhongkong_406x250The microbiological tests covered pathogens and hygienic indicators, while the chemical tests aimed at detecting pesticides, preservatives, metallic contaminants, coloring matters, veterinary drug residues and others.

The samples included about 2,400 samples of vegetables and fruit and their products; 500 samples of meat and poultry and their products; 1,400 samples of aquatic and related products; 400 samples of milk, milk products and frozen confections; 400 samples of cereals, grains and their products; and 4,100 samples of other food commodities, including beverages, bakery products and snacks.

The four unsatisfactory samples were two vegetable samples detected with pesticide residues exceeding the legal limits; a mud crab sample found to contain a veterinary drug, chloramphenicol; and a roast beef sample suspected to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The CFS has taken follow-up action on the unsatisfactory samples including informing the vendors concerned of the test results, instructing them to stop selling the affected food items and tracing the sources of the food items in question.

Since the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap 132CM) came into effect on Aug. 1, 2014, as of Feb. 28 this year, the CFS had taken over 97,600 food samples at import, wholesale and retail levels for testing for pesticide residues. The overall unsatisfactory rate is less than 0.2 per cent.

The spokesman added that excessive pesticide residues in food may arise from the trade not observing Good Agricultural Practices, e.g. using excessive pesticides and/or not allowing sufficient time for pesticides to decompose before harvesting.

The maximum residue limit (MRL) of pesticide residues in food is not a safety indicator. It is the maximum concentration of pesticide residues to be permitted in a food commodity under Good Agricultural Practices when applying pesticides. Consumption of food with pesticide residues higher than the MRL will not necessarily lead to any adverse health effects.

Listeria monocytogenes can be easily destroyed by cooking but can survive and multiply at refrigerator temperatures. Most healthy individuals do not develop symptoms or only have mild symptoms like fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea when infected.

However, severe complications such as septicemia, meningitis or even death may occur in newborns, the elderly and those with a weaker immune system. Although infected pregnant women may just experience mild symptoms generally, the infection of Listeria monocytogenes may cause miscarriage, infant death, preterm birth, or severe infection in the newborns.

The CFS spokesman reminded the food trade to ensure that food is fit for human consumption and meets legal requirements. Consumers should patronize reliable shops when buying food and maintain a balanced diet to minimize food risks.

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