Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Microbiological Guidelines for Ready-to-eat Food


This paper presents the Microbiological Guidelines for Ready-to-eat Food as recommended by the Expert Panel on Microbiological Safety of Food of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

Role of Microbiological Guidelines in Food Safety Control

2. Microbiological guidelines are criteria used to assess the microbiological condition of the food concerned so as to reflect its safety and quality. According to Codex1, the functions of microbiological guidelines include formulation of design requirements, indication of required and expected microbiological status of the food commodities, and verification of efficacy of hygienic practice. The guidelines can be used by regulatory authorities for monitoring food safety and by the food trade to devise measures to improve their food safety practices.

3. Microbiological limits have been set by international authorities for a limited number of food commodities only. To facilitate food safety management, different countries have developed their own microbiological guidelines to meet the need of microbiological safety control. The scope of food items and microorganisms covered by these guidelines varies from country to country due to the differences in local food safety concern.

Development of Microbiological Guidelines for Ready-to-eat Food in Hong Kong

4. In Hong Kong, the legal powers and instruments for the enforcement of microbiological safety of food are provided for under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132). Section 54 of the Ordinance stipulates that it is an offence to sell food that is unfit for human consumption. In addition, microbiological standards have been set for a limited number of food items including frozen confection and milk. For microbiological food surveillance of other food items and enforcement of the legislation, Hong Kong has been taking reference from overseas guidelines in monitoring microbiological food safety.

5. With the establishment of FEHD in 2000, the Expert Panel on Microbiological Safety of Food, comprising experts in the field of microbiology, was set up to provide advice and scientific expertise for further enhancing food safety control. One of its priority tasks is to review and make recommendations on a set of microbiological limits for ready-to-eat food that best suits the local situation.

6. After reviewing the latest developments, the Expert Panel has recommended a set of microbiological guidelines for ready-to-eat food for local use (Annex). The guidelines set out the safety limits of nine major food borne pathogens such as Salmonella species, Listeria monocytogenes, E coli O157 and Vibrio Cholerae. They also provide a classification of microbiological quality of ready-to-eat food for reflecting the hygienic status of the food concerned. The guidelines are intended to provide a useful reference to the local food trade. Based on the specified limits and classification of respective food items as provided in the guidelines, FEHD can also take appropriate follow up actions to ensure food safety.

Promulgation to the Trade

7. We intend to promulgate the guidelines to the food trade and other interested stakeholders through seminar, newsletter and FEHD's website. Based on the information contained in the guidelines, the food trade can devise relevant food safety control plans and focus on the priority control measures.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
October 2001

1 The Codex Alimentarius Commission under the United Nations is recognised by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Trade Organization as the international authority for setting food related standards. It has a mandate to protect the health of the consumers without imposing unnecessary restrictions on the trade.