Authorities in Hong Kong have linked cases of food poisoning to a suspected unlicensed food factory in the country.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health reported 27 people were sick and five needed hospital treatment after eating sandwiches bought from the same shop.

Initially, two suspected food poisoning clusters affecting seven people were reported. The first cluster involved four females aged 6 to 54. They developed gastroenteritis symptoms including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and fever about eight to 12 hours after consuming sandwiches purchased from a shop in Tsuen Wan on the same day.

The second cluster was three females aged 5 to 34, who developed similar symptoms about seven to 14 hours after eating sandwiches of the same brand. All those affected sought medical consultation but none required hospitalization and they are now in a stable condition.

CHP later identified nine more clusters of suspected food poisoning related to the sandwiches. They involved five males and 15 females aged 1 to 68. People developed gastroenteritis symptoms about four to 43 hours after consuming the sandwiches between May 18 and 21.

A total of 16 people sought medical consultation and five required hospitalization but are now in a stable condition.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) urged the public not to consume the sandwiches concerned, regardless of batches and types. Trade was also told to stop using or selling the products if they have it in their possession.

Suspicion of unlicensed factory
A CFS spokesman said the agency sent staff to the retail outlet in Tsuen Wan to investigate and take samples for testing.

“The retail outlet concerned has already stopped sale of the affected product according to the CFS’ advice. The CFS has also provided health education on food safety and hygiene to the person-in-charge and staff concerned, and requested them to carry out a thorough cleaning and disinfection,” he said.

“Prolonged storage of food at room temperature may allow pathogens to grow and produce toxins. Members of the public should avoid consuming cooked or ready-to-eat food that has been kept at room temperature for several hours.”

A follow-up investigation by the CFS and the Environmental Hygiene Branch of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) revealed the supplier was suspected of operating an unlicensed food factory.

“Prosecution has been instituted against the person in charge of the premises by the FEHD. . . The CFS has also instructed the food premises concerned to stop production and sale of the product concerned,” said the CFS spokesman.

Under regulations, the maximum penalty for operating an unlicensed food factory is a fine of HK$50,000 (U.S. $6,500) and six months’ imprisonment upon conviction.

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