Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Confirmed Minutes of the Fourth Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 8 December 2000
at Room 1007, 10/F Citibank Tower, Garden Road


Dr TSE Chi-wai, Daniel
Mr CHAN Bing-woon
Dr HO Dit-sang, John
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony
Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr LEUNG Ding-bong, Ronald
Dr LO Wing-lok
Professor MA Ching-yung
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Mr Paul TANG
Mrs Lessie WEI
Mrs Rita LAU
Mrs Ingrid YEUNG

Acting Secretary for the Environment and Food
Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene

Absent with Apologies

Mr CHEN Shu-lin, Mark
Miss KI Man-fung, Leonie
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Dr Margaret CHAN

Director of Health

In Attendance

Environment and Food Bureau

Ms Eva TO Principal Assistant Secretary (A) 3

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Dr K K LIU Assistant Director (Agriculture, Quarantine and Inspection)

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Miss Sarah WU Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)
Dr P Y LEUNG Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)
Mr W H CHEUK Assistant Director (Headquarters)
Dr Gloria TAM Assistant Director (Food Surveillance and Control)

Department of Health

Dr L Y TSE Consultant (Community Medicine)  

(As the Chairman was caught in a traffic jam, Mr Tang took over the Chairmanship to start the meeting.)

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of Minutes of Last Meeting

Mr Tang said that the draft minutes had been sent to Members on 10 October 2000. The Secretariat had not received any comments. As Members did not propose any amendments at the meeting, the minutes were confirmed.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters arising from Minutes of Last Meeting

2. There was no matter arising from minutes of last meeting.

Agenda Item 3: Draft Consultation Paper on the Review of the Food Establishment Inspection System and the Open Categorization Scheme
(ACFEH Paper 10/2000)

3. Mr Tang said that as the Government intended to conduct the public consultation on the Review of the Food Establishment Inspection System and the Open Categorization Scheme in January 2001, the draft consultation paper annexed to ACFEH Paper 10/2000 was confidential for the time being and for Members' perusal only. He invited Mr Cheuk to introduce the paper.

4. Mr Cheuk explained the main points of the paper. He said that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) had completed the review of the food establishment inspection system and the open categorization scheme. He said that in enhancing food safety for public consumption, tripartite cooperation involving the consumers, the trade and the Government was necessary. The ultimate goal should be the promotion of self-regulation among the food trade. To further enhance food safety and safeguard public health, the following four-prong approach was proposed in the draft consultation paper -

  1. refocusing the existing inspection system;

  2. introducing Hygiene Manager (HM) and Hygiene Supervisor (HS) requirements;

  3. introducing a new Open Categorization Scheme; and

  4. improving the Demerit Points System.

The consultation paper would be issued in January 2001. Views would be invited from the concerned Legislative Council panel, trade associations, all licensed food establishments, District Councils and the general public.

(The Chairman arrived at this point)

5. The Chairman apologized for being late. He said that a Member was out of town but had sent written comments on the draft consultation paper which were tabled. The Administration could respond to the Member's queries in subsequent discussion. He invited Members' views on the ACFEH Paper 10/2000.

6. A Member asked if the Administration could detect whether siu mei sold in siu mei shops were from unlicensed factories and whether the Demerit Points System applied to siu mei establishments. Miss Wu responded that a mechanism was already in place to trace the food source of licensed food establishments, especially siu mei and lo mei shops. Any licensed siu mei establishment which was convicted of an offence relating to hygiene and food safety regulation was subject to the penalty under the present Demerit Points System.

7. The Chairman said that as set out in paragraph 4.15 of the draft consultation paper, 10 points would be deducted from the overall average score of a food establishment under the proposed Open Categorization Scheme whenever a prosecution was taken against it. He asked whether the deduction was in relation to the Demerit Points System. The meeting noted that a Member raised a similar query. Mrs Lau replied that the scores so deducted under the proposed Open Categorization Scheme was different from demerit points registered under the Demerit Points System. She said that the Administration would further consult the trade on details of the scoring under the proposed Open Categorization Scheme.

8. A Member asked about the respective duties of HM and HS, and how to ensure that such duties were properly carried out. Mrs Lau said that to minimize the interference with private business, owners of food establishments would be encouraged to oversee the performance of their own HMs and HSs. It was proposed that HMs would be tasked with more important duties and required to complete a recognized course of training and obtain a certificate of competence in food hygiene. The universities and vocational training centers in Hong Kong already organized recognized courses on food hygiene and they were prepared to meet the increased demand for such courses upon the introduction of the proposed HM scheme. For HSs, they were only required to attend a short training session on basic hygiene organized by FEHD.

9. Addressing the Chairman's concern, Mrs Lau said that the Administration would aim at minimizing the additional costs incurred by the trade, especially the small and medium food establishments, to implement the HM and HS Scheme. The Chairman remarked that �� �� �� �� ��, rather than �� �� �D ��, was a more appropriate Chinese terminology for HS.

10. A Member opined that it was important to educate the owners of food establishments on the importance of food hygiene in order to effectively carry out the HM and HS scheme. In response, Mrs Lau said that one proposal was to make the appointment of HM and/or HS a condition for granting or renewing a licence. An alternative was to conduct the regular inspection of the food establishment by FEHD's health inspector in the presence of the HM and/or HS so as to demonstrate the importance of the HM and/or HS and to educate the owner on the importance of food hygiene. Miss Wu supplemented that before obtaining a food establishment licence, the licence holder was required to attend a training course on food hygiene. The importance of having a HM and/or HS to ensure food safety for public consumption would also be conveyed to the licence holder.

11. The Member asked how did the authority determine whether the food sold in a food establishment was of high/medium/low risk. In particular, she raised concern over a shop selling open food items around a busy street corner at Causeway Bay. In response, Mrs Lau said that scientific and objective means were adopted to determine the risk level of food produced or sold by food establishments. Dr P Y Leung elaborated that the growth of bacteria was the determining factor. High-risk foods included those which remained raw when being consumed such as sashimi, and those which required special method for storage such as milk and ice-cream. In considering whether certain food items were safe for consumption, risk assessment would be conducted and factors including the cooking method and environment of the place of consumption would be taken into account. Miss Wu added that FEHD had been keeping the concerned food shop at Causeway Bay under close surveillance because of the environmental hygiene problem and food safety concern that it had caused.

12. A Member asked if parasites and additives were taken into account in assessing the risk level of food items. Dr P Y Leung replied that for parasites, the answer was affirmative. However, as additives were normally added when food items were manufactured rather than during the cooking process, control of additives was therefore exercised at the sourcing and manufacturing stages.

13. A Member asked how would FEHD ensure that food establishments would display their scores/grading under the proposed Open Categorization Scheme at conspicuous spots in their premises. Miss Wu replied that administrative or licensing means would be adopted to ensure that the scores/grading would be displayed.

14. The Chairman opined that it was crucial to change the eating culture of consumers so that they would be more concerned and aware of the importance of food safety to their health. On training of HMs and HSs, emphasis should be put in developing food-safety culture among the food trade. Mrs Lau agreed and reiterated the importance of tripartite co-operation of the consumers, the food trade and the Government. A Member remarked and another Member agreed that public education on food hygiene and safety should also be given to students in schools to cultivate a new eating culture.

15. A Member opined that scores under the proposed Open Categorization Scheme could be published in airline and travel magazines so as to encourage food establishments to improve the hygiene and safety of their food.

16. A Member asked whether there were adequate manpower resources within FEHD to implement the proposals in the consultation paper. The Chairman and another Member shared similar concern. In response, Mrs Lau said that although the time for each inspection under the proposed system would increase, the frequency for inspections would decrease. The proposals would be implemented through staff redeployment and rescheduling of responsibilities of health inspectors. In general, the existing manpower resources should be able to cope with the new requirements for the time being. FEHD would closely monitor the manpower situation and seek additional resources should needs arise. Besides, training for health inspectors would be enhanced to equip them with the necessary skills to implement the proposals.

17. A Member said that the food trade was very concerned about the proposed Open Categorization Scheme. It considered that the publication of unfavourable grading would adversely affect the business of the concerned food establishments. He asked whether the Administration would, as the first stage of implementation of the Scheme, consider giving only favourable grading. Unfavourable grading could be given in the second stage of implementation so that food establishments could have more time to improve their hygienic condition. In response, Mrs Lau said that this would be similar to the "5-star" grading scheme and would fail to provide information on the hygiene and food safety standards of food establishments to consumers. She said that although the food trade was critical of the proposal to give and publish unfavourable grading, the Administration considered it worthwhile to put forth the proposal for consultation having regard to consumers' right to information. As the grading would be properly done on a sound and fair basis and applied to all food operators, they should not be afraid of subjecting their establishments to the scrutiny.

18. A Member said that he supported the proposal to give both favourable and unfavourable gradings. However, the "passing" standard should not be too strict in the initial stage in order to avoid hard feelings among the food trade. Regarding the Demerit Points System, it could help ensure that the food trade complied with the food safety and hygiene regulation and should continue to exist. In response, Mrs Lau said that the Demerit Points System would be maintained to provide the deterrent. Improvements to the system were detailed in Annex C to the draft consultation paper.

19. The Chairman drew Members' attention to a Member's written query about the consultancy study conducted by a Consultancy Firm. In response, Miss Wu said that the consultancy study looked into the licensing procedure of food premises other than restaurants and did not relate to the proposals covered in the draft consultation paper. On the Member's comments regarding the application of the Demerit Points System to restaurants and other food establishments, Mrs Lau said that as proposed in the draft consultation paper, the system should be reformed to take account of the varied nature of food establishments and their unique mode of operations. FEHD would consult large manufacturing plants producing food and beverages.

20. A Member suggested and Mrs Lau agreed that separate lists of duties of HM and HS should be set out in the consultation paper. Noting that a separate Demerit Points System for large food establishments would be considered, the Member asked whether there would be a separate Demerit Points System for food chain groups with many offshoots. In response, Mrs Lau said that it might not be necessary to maintain a separate system for food chain groups as a licence was issued to each offshoot of a group with its own set of demerit points registered against it.

21. A Member asked if HMs and HSs would be registered and whether guidelines on their responsibilities would be issued. Mrs Lau responded in the affirmative and said that the proposed registration system would be administrative rather than statutory for the time being. Consideration could be given to implement statutory registration requirements when the food trade was ready.

Agenda Item 4 : A Proposal to Strengthen the Control on Unlicensed and Unhygienic Food Establishments
(ACFEH Paper 11/2000)

22. The Chairman invited Mr Cheuk to explain the proposal. Mr Cheuk said that to further protect public health, the Administration proposed to amend the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance to empower the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) to apply for a Closure Order to close unlicensed food establishments, without first having to obtain a Prohibition Order. The Administration also proposed to empower DFEH to close unhygienic food establishments that posed an immediate health hazard to the public.

23. A Member supported the proposal to empower DFEH to apply for a Closure Order. He asked if DFEH would apply for the Order even when the unlicensed food establishment had made a licence application. Mr Cheuk said that on discovery of an unlicensed food establishment, DFEH would check whether the establishment had made a licence application. If it had, FEHD would take out prosecution while the application was being processed. If no licence application had been made, FEHD would apply for a Closure Order.

24. A Member appreciated FEHD's measures to improve the licensing service, especially the set up of the Resource Centre, to shorten the process for restaurant licensing. He opined that the proposed legislative amendments would not affect the genuine operators who were willing to apply for licences for their food businesses.

25. The meeting supported the proposal in the paper.

Agenda Item 5: Investigation of a Chicken Farm Exposed to an H5 Influenza Virus
(ACFEH Paper 12/2000)

26. Dr Liu introduced the paper. He reported that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), through its regular farm surveillance programme, detected a low level of antibodies to H5 avian influenza virus in chickens in a small farm at Ngau Tam Mei. Chickens on the farm were put under quarantine. After thorough investigation, it was concluded that chickens on the farm had been exposed to H5 avian influenza virus, but the behaviour of the virus was entirely different from the H5N1 avian influenza virus in 1997. The Administration had not isolated the H5 virus and concluded that the virus had not established itself in the farm in question. All restrictions on that farm were lifted. The incident however showed that H5 avian influenza viruses could occasionally cross into domestic poultry population. To prevent any possible spread and contamination of local poultry markets, the Administration had stepped up inspection of local farms and the wholesale market, increased cleaning of retail markets and strengthened clinical checks on imported birds which had to undergo H5 testing at the import control point.

27. A Member said that the incident had aroused the public's worry about the break out of H5 avian influenza virus and the safety of eating chickens. The meeting noted that eating cooked chickens or contacts with dressed carcasses would not pose any danger of contracting H5 avian influenza viruses. The virus however might be spread through contacts with live chickens. Dr Liu added that H5 avian viruses exist in nature but we should prevent the virus from spreading to our poultry markets. As the virus would not be spread through chicken carcasses, the surveillance and control should focus at the farm level. The meeting noted that AFCD had already made a public announcement on the investigation result. In view of the public's worry, the Chairman said that he would mention the investigation result and reiterate the safety of eating chickens in the post-meeting press briefing.

28. Upon Mr Tang's enquiry, Mrs Wei said that prices of chickens dropped a few days after the discovery of possible exposure of the farm in question to H5 virus, but had gradually returned to the average level.

29. A Member asked about the compensation to the operator of the farm in question. In response, Dr Liu said that the Administration had given technical support and would consider providing low interest loans to assist the operator to resume operation as soon as possible. The Administration also paid at a reasonable price for the chickens taken from the farm for testing during the investigation.

30. Another Member asked what would be the benchmark for starting a thorough investigation in the future when positive blood test result was obtained. Dr Liu replied that the Administration had followed international standard practice in handling the case. In future, the same investigation and intense testing would still be triggered if one out of 13 samples of blood was found showing positive result. He added that it would be too late to prevent spreading of H5 avian influenza virus if we waited until clinical signs and symptoms appearing among chickens.

31. Dr Liu added that the incident showed that different types of H5 avian influenza viruses could behave very differently. The Administration would take this into account in handling similar incidents in the future, but actions would continue to be taken to monitor poultry farms and imported chickens closely to prevent H5 avian influenza virus from infecting local poultry markets.

32. In response to a Member's query, Dr Liu said that AFCD kept records of imported day old chickens and was able to follow them through at farms. In addition, farmers had been requested to notify AFCD before selling their chickens to the markets. These measures would enable AFCD to test local chickens for exposure to H5 avian influenza virus at farms before they were sent to markets.

33. Addressing a Member's concern, Dr Liu assured that, to his knowledge, all operators of commercial farms had registered with AFCD and the existence of unlicensed farms was not an issue.

34. A Member asked whether the Administration was able to identify through what channel the chickens would expose to the H5 avian influenza virus in the incident. Dr Liu replied that the Administration had investigated and discounted imported day-old chickens and feeds as the possible source of the virus. It was possible that the chickens exposed to the virus through wild birds crossing into the farm. The Administration therefore would liaise with farm operators on actions to prevent wild birds from contaminating the water source and feeds at farms.

Agenda Item 6: Any other business

35. The Chairman reported that the Advisory Council had visited the Government Laboratory and a Lee Kam Kee factory in October. A visit to the Tsuen Wan and Sheung Shui Slaughterhouses was arranged on 9 December 2000.

36. Mrs Lau reminded Members that the Opening Ceremony of the Clean Hong Kong Campaign would be held on 17 December 2000 at Kowloon Park. Members were invited to attend the Ceremony and invitation cards were tabled.

37. The next meeting is scheduled on 18 January 2001.

38. There being no other issues, the meeting was ended at 5:00 p.m.

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Environment and Food Bureau
January 2001