Calling for revolution

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 1997, 12:00am

I am a food scientist who trained in food manufacturing and food safety at a local university. I worked in the food industry, but am now involved in pharmacy education in Hong Kong.

The outbreak of cholera and somewhat confusing press reports have highlighted the need for a small revolution in the area of food safety and manufacturing standards. Most people just accuse the manufacturers of having poor standards, but do not offer positive suggestions. Each year, the Government spends a lot of money training food professionals at local universities and technical colleges. We have the personnel capable of changing the present state of affairs.

I know that the Department of Health and the Urban Services and Regional Services departments employ many health inspectors to check on manufacturers. However, they are clearly not being wholly successful.

Our food manufacturing regulations, laid out in the Public Health and Municipal Ordinance, are outdated. In the United States, food manufacturers are supposed to apply a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP, one type of quality assurance for food processing). In Hong Kong, however, only a few manufacturers implement HACCP. It is not obligatory here. Therefore, changes are necessary. Let's take, as a model to follow, the mechanism of pharmaceutical sales and manufacturing in Hong Kong. We have a Pharmacy and Poison Board and dealers must be licensed to sell drugs.

Similarly, food manufacturers should be obliged to employ food professionals to monitor conditions in the plant, rather than having to be inspected by a health inspector. The burden for maintaining a good food manufacturing condition should fall on the shoulders of this professional. A manufacturer who does not comply with this rule should be refused an Urban Services or Regional Services department licence.

We should also establish a Food Safety Board to replace the current Urban and Regional council environmental committees. Food poisoning can have effects on an individual which are just as serious as drug abuse.