The number of food incidents potentially affecting Hong Kong increased in 2023, according to the Centre for Food Safety (CFS).

The Food Incident Surveillance System (FISS) monitors issues outside Hong Kong that could potentially affect local food safety.

In 2023, CFS detected 3,500 food incidents through the FISS compared to 2,500 notices in 2022. The agency investigated the availability of implicated products locally by reviewing import records, coordinating with relevant authorities, and conducting checks with local traders.

There were 567 incidents that required follow up action. They involved chemical, microbiological, and physical hazards as well as other issues such as incorrect date labeling.

Hazard type
The majority of alerts were related to chemical and microbiological hazards, which accounted for 41 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Chemical hazards cover excessive use of food additives, toxins, and undeclared allergens, while microbiological hazards include Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. Physical hazards, such as plastic, glass or metal foreign bodies, were behind 14 percent of reports.

Risk management measures included stopping the sale of affected products, initiating recalls, intensifying surveillance, and suspending imports.

CFS also uses the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) and the European Union’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

One example of the system working was a raw milk cheese recalled in France in December 2023 due to possible contamination with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

By conducting local sales checks at the import and retail levels, CFS verified that the affected product had been imported to Hong Kong. The agency instructed the importer to halt sales, remove products from shelves, and conduct a recall. A press release was also issued to advise the public not to consume the affected products. 

Oyster concerns
Meanwhile, CFS has ordered the import of raw oysters produced by Earl Huitres Geay in France to be suspended. The agency told industry to stop using or selling the products concerned.

CFS was notified by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health of two food poisoning patients who ate raw oysters at two restaurants. Investigations at the outlets found they had sold oysters produced by Earl Huitres Geay. 

CFS said it will inform the French authorities and take appropriate action to safeguard food safety and public health.

A similar situation occurred in 2023. Raw oysters produced by Earl Huitres Geay were stopped from entering Hong Kong in January after a link to three illnesses. Measures were lifted in March 2023.

Earlier this month, officials in Hong Kong inspected various licensed food premises to ensure that raw oysters were stored at the proper temperature.

Raw oysters ready for immediate consumption need to be kept in a refrigerator separated from other food items at a temperature between 0 and 4 degrees C (32 to 39.2 degrees F). If a breach of these conditions is found, officers can issue verbal warnings, warning letters, and cancel the license of the premises.

“The FEHD has launched a series of operations since Jan. 31 and stepped up inspections in various districts. Health advice was also given, and food safety pamphlets were distributed to operators and staff of food premises regarding the proper way of storing and handling raw oysters,” said a spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

Vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are advised to avoid eating raw oysters.

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