Law requiring food sellers to keep receipts up to 2 years passes Legco

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2011, 12:00am

Food sellers will have to keep receipts for up to two years after passage yesterday of a law enabling the government to trace products up the supply chain in cases of food poisoning.

From August 1, wholesalers, distributors and retailers will have to keep receipts, for three months in the case of meat, seafood, dairy products and vegetables, and two years for canned and other packaged items.

But they will be given six months' grace until February before full enforcement of the law, which provides for fines of up to HK$10,000 and three months' jail.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok told legislators yesterday that during the grace period businesses would only be 'reminded' of their responsibilities.

Although most supported the measure, some fishermen and retailers said it would still be hard to trace sources as receipts could be inaccurate and unreliable.

Hong Kong Public Market Hawkers Association chairman David Wong Chai-wai said protecting food safety was important, but it would be hard to enforce the policy. 'Wholesalers can tell you whatever they want on the origin of products and you have to believe them. They can say vegetables come from a farm in Guangxi but whether the farm really exists is another problem.'

He said that even if Hong Kong officials reported a case to mainland authorities, it would be up to the latter to decide whether to take action. 'Hong Kong cannot do much to protect its food sources, as most of our food is imported,' he said.

Hong Kong Fishery Alliance spokesman Keung Siu-fai said it would be difficult for fishermen to record where they caught fish, especially for those who were illiterate.

'It is possible to catch 60 to 70 different kinds of fish in one go, and it is not practical to note down the sources for every single one.'

He said retailers could get the same kind of fish from different suppliers, and they would be sold together. Even when food poisoning occurred, it would be difficult to determine which supplier was involved.

But Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants chairman Lee Choi-wah said it was not difficult to implement the new policy. 'Everything has been digitised these days. With computers, you can keep records for as long as you want.'

The new law would also require all food wholesalers and distributors to register with the government, and the registration needed to be renewed every three years.

Chow said those who submitted their applications between August and December would be able to receive approval before February.