Child alert on meat additive
Health officials have warned parents that dangerous levels of a chemical with heightened risks for children have been found in Chinese preserved meat.
A study by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department showed that three out of 69 samples of preserved meat, or lap mei, contained too much sodium nitrate.
The preservative, if taken excessively, can cause breathlessness and bluish discolouration of the skin and the mucous membranes, department consultant Ho Yuk-yin said.
'Children in particular are susceptible to sodium nitrate. They should restrict their intake and infants should avoid taking it at all,' said Dr Ho, who unveiled the findings yesterday. 'In the unlikely case of an intake of up to four grams, it could be fatal. But this is very rare.'
Dr Ho said sodium nitrate was an important preservative that inhibited the growth of bacteria and prevented toxin formation. It also fixed the colour of the meat.
'Whether it is harmful to humans depends on the amount of intake and how physically strong the person is.'
The samples, obtained from local retailers and tested in 1999 and last year, came from preserved sausages, pork and duck.
The three problem samples had a sodium nitrate level of about 1,000 parts per million, double the level allowed by the Preservatives in Food Regulations.
Dr Ho said the three samples were made in Hong Kong and warning letters had been issued to the retailers. 'We carried out follow-up examinations on the retailers later and the results were satisfactory,' he said.