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A busy day for Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety

CFS is a unit of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of Hong Kong’s City government, which is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. The city and autonomous territory on the Pearl River Delta are home to more than 7.2 million people.

Last Friday, CFS inspectors had a busy day, finding excess amounts of cadmium in imported cooked snow crab, a preservative not permitted in vinegar, and excess pesticide residues in three different vegetable samples.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Exploringlife (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The imported cooked snow crab samples that came from Japan went to AEON, a distributor in the city. “CFS found one crab sample of the same kind collected from one of a number of outlets contained cadmium at a level of 8.1 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the legal limit of 2 ppm,” a CFS spokesman said, according to Food Safety News.

What’s the big deal about cadmium? Cadmium is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and OSHA.

After informing the importer and retailer, the CFS began tracing the source and distribution of the affected product. “Should there be sufficient evidence, prosecution will be instituted,” the spokesman said. And the CFS does follow up. If any person sells food with metallic contamination above the legal limits, they are liable upon conviction to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

CFS sampled a portion of Gold Plum brand of Superior Mature Vinegar made by Jiangsu Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs I/E Group Corp. The bottle of vinegar was purchased at a food stall in Kowloon City market for use as a condiment at the restaurant where it was found. The vinegar contained ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate at a level of 187 parts per million.

The problem with the preservative is that it is not allowed at any level in foods in Hong Kong. That’s another $50,000 fine and six-months in jail.

As for the vegetables, “test results showed that the bitter gourd sample contained cypermethrin at a level of 0.092 parts per million (ppm), about 1.32 times the maximum residue limit (0.07 ppm). The Indian lettuce and Chinese lettuce samples contained cyhalothrin at levels of 0.27 ppm and 0.49 ppm, e.g., 1.35 times and 2.45 times, respectively, of the maximum residue limit (0.2 ppm).”

Fresh shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong.

Fresh shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong.

Basically, in Hong Kong, anyone who imports, manufactures or sells any foods not in compliance with the requirements of Hong Kong’s Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap 132CM) has committed an offense and is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and six months in prison upon conviction.

Interestingly, just about all of the fresh produce testing positive for pesticide residues above the legal limit are from vegetables grown in mainland China. Chinese farmers have been known to use excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides.

CFS also continues to monitor radiation levels in certain food products from Japan. Since that fateful March day in 2011, Hong Kong has tested 344,881 samples of food items imported from Japan, and other than the “hot” white radishes, turnips, and spinach CFS found on March 23, 2011, there have been no other positive test results for radiation.

The CFS also monitors other countries’ food safety agencies and keeps distributors of imported products up to date if and food recalls are issued in those countries.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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