Japan food ban after radioactive spinach found

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong is banning all fruit, vegetables and dairy products from five quake-affected prefectures in Japan from noon today after three food samples were found to be up to 10 times over radiation limits.

Officials said the results were found in two samples of radishes and one of spinach - but they insisted that no contaminated food had gone on sale.

The level of contamination ranged from 2.6 to 10 times above safety levels, said the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, Clement Leung Chuek-man. 'Therefore, we must now ban the import of products from the most affected prefectures,' Leung added.

Iodine-131, which can cause thyroid cancer, was detected in the three batches after they arrived in the city yesterday.

Radioactivity is measured in units called becquerels, and the 1kg sample of spinach contained 1,000 becquerels of iodine-131, while the radishes contained 800 and 260 becquerels. The international safety levels are 100 becquerels per kilogram of food, said Professor Gabriel Leung, the undersecretary for food and health.

He added that someone would have to eat the contaminated spinach every day for a year before it approached dangerous levels.

The undersecretary said he was also confident contaminated food would not enter the Hong Kong market. 'The government has been stepping up the monitoring of fresh food from Japan, and tests results of over 200 batches of food remained normal,' he said.

A total of 288 batches of fresh products from Japan have been tested for radioactivity since the earthquake, and no abnormalities had shown up until yesterday.

The ban applies to fruit, vegetables and dairy products from Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Fukushima and Gunma.

Meat, poultry and seafood from the five prefectures will require official certificates proving their safety.