Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

FOOD SURVEILLANCE - AN OVERVIEW

PURPOSE

This paper briefs Members on the food surveillance programme conducted by Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

BACKGROUND

  1. Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is the territory's food safety authority. The Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates that all food on sale must be wholesome, unadulterated and fit for human consumption. Moreover, there is a set of subsidiary regulations which spells out the standards for specific food products. A list of the relevant regulations is at Annex A. As part of the overall food safety control strategy, a food surveillance programme has been put in place for conformity checks to be performed on food products against prescribed standards or criteria.

THE FOOD SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMME

Objectives

  1. Food surveillance involves the ongoing collection, analysis and interpretation of data on food hazards. It serves two specific objectives -

(a) To assess whether food on sale is fit for human consumption -

food samples are taken and tested in order to protect public health against unsafe food; and

(b) To ascertain whether prepackaged food is properly labelled -

inspections are carried out to ensure that food labels comply with the labelling requirements prescribed in law and that the information given is factual and accurate.

Collection of Food Samples

  1. Under the food surveillance programme, food samples are collected at import, manufacture, wholesale and retail stages of the food supply chain. At present, priority is given to sampling the following food categories -
       
  1. food that needs to comply with standards stipulated in the Regulations;

  2. food connected with previous food poisoning or other food safety incidents;

  3. food manufactured by or sold in previously convicted food premises; and

  4. food under complaint by the public.
  1. Sampling priority is under constant review, taking into account latest overseas and local risk analyses.

Analysis of Food Samples

  1. Chemical, microbiological and/or radioactivity analyses will be conducted on food samples based on their inherent risks. Composition analysis will also be carried out on prepackaged food to assess the accuracy of the labels. While Government Laboratory is responsible for chemical, radioactivity and composition analyses, microbiological analyses are carried out by Institute of Pathology of Department of Health.
  1. Chemical Analysis
    Chemical analysis mainly involves the testing of natural toxins, food additives and contaminants in food samples. Ciguatera is a well known natural toxin in coral reef fish. Food additives are chemicals added to food products with specific purpose of improving their quality. Examples include sweeteners, preservatives and antioxidants. Contaminants are substances not intentionally added to food, but are present as a result of production, processing, packaging, transportation or environmental contamination. Examples are metals and dioxin.

  2. Microbiological Analysis
    Microbiological analysis assesses the hygienic quality of food samples and the presence of specific pathogens. Hygienic quality is assessed through tests on overall bacterial and/or coliform organism counts. Pathogens are micro-organisms that are known to be disease-causing, such as Salmonella and Listeria Monocytogenes.

  3. Radioactivity Analysis
    Radioactivity analysis measures radioactive substances contained in food samples so as to monitor the prevalent level of radioactivity in our food supply.

  4. Composition Analysis
    Composition analysis finds out the ingredients and additives in food samples for establishing the accuracy of food labels.

Enforcement

  1. Based on the results of product inspection and/or laboratory testing, enforcement action is taken against those who import or sell food which does not comply with the legal standards. Enforcement action taken usually reflects the extent of impact on public health and may range from giving health advice, warnings, suspension of licence and prosecutions.

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT ON FOOD SURVEILLANCE RESULTS

  1. Food and Environmental Hygiene Department regularly publicizes results of its food surveillance programme. The community is kept informed of current food safety issues and given relevant health advice.

  2. A press briefing on food surveillance results for the first half of 2000 was held in August. Copies of the press release were sent to Members for information on 14 August. A summary of the surveillance results is at Annex B for Members' reference.

CONCLUSION

  1. Hong Kong has attained a high food-sampling rate. Comparing with the international reference of 3 samples per 1 000 population per annum, we have consistently achieved an intensity of more than 8 samples per 1 000 population per annum. While we would maintain the same high quantitative standard, more efforts are being directed to risk assessment and risk communication. Enhanced risk assessment will provide the scientific basis for more targeted food sampling. Improved risk communication will involve conveying food surveillance results to consumers so they can make an informed choice.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
September 2000

 

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