Hong Kong's food safety is paramount

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 July, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 July, 2015, 12:05am

Hong Kong is well known for its food quality and variety. Safety, however, remains an issue. From time to time, the city is hit by food scares; the latest being the Taiwan 'gutter oil' scandal last September. It was found that tainted oil imported from the island actually contained ingredients sourced from Hong Kong factories. The controversy has not only underlined our lack of monitoring on edible oil brought in and exported from the city; it also dealt a blow to the city's image.

Ten months later, the government has moved to plug the loophole. Under the proposed regulatory regime, ingredients not intended for human consumption must not be used in edible oil. All imported and locally produced edible fat has to come with a certificate of quality. A new system will also be put in place to help trace the source of any contamination. To prevent waste cooking oil from entering the food chain again, there will be a new licensing system for those collecting and recycling. Waste oil from food premises must be disposed of through licensed operators. Belated as they are, the proposals are a step in the right direction.

Officials are probably right in saying there is no universal testing standard to help identify the so-called gutter oil, referring to unhygienic oil waste recycled for cooking. It is nonetheless better to err on the side of caution. The proposed tightening of rules on harmful substances in oil products is a sensible move. The new levels mean 5 per cent of the previous samples taken by the food safety watchdog would have failed the test. It is reassuring to learn that the situation would not be alarming.

Oil suppliers warned that costs would increase as a result. This is to be expected. If this is the price to pay for our safety, consumers would not mind. At stake though is not just our reputation. We have the responsibility to assure local and overseas communities that what goes in and out of Hong Kong for human consumption is safe.