More tests ordered on dairy products amid botulism scare
Health minister orders checks on other goods as another brand recalls infant formula amid scare over bacteria that can cause botulism
Hong Kong's health minister has ordered tests for bacteria to be widened from milk formula to dairy products, as a partial recall of another brand began amid a contamination scare surrounding a New Zealand producer.
Concerns are rising over the discovery of botulism-causing bacteria in an ingredient supplied by Fonterra, the world's biggest dairy foods exporter.
The Department of Health said that by 4pm yesterday its hotline, which was set up on Monday, had received a total of 184 inquiries.
Five callers said their babies had consumed some of the formula involved in the scare and had fever, were refusing to eat, felt tired and lacked strength.
The callers were advised to take their children to see doctors as soon as possible.
Yesterday, one of four dealers in formula brand Karicare withdrew its goods from Hong Kong shelves as a precaution, following the recall of Cow & Gate formula on Monday.
Both brands sourced their ingredients from Fonterra, which said on Sunday that Clostridium botulinum, a potentially fatal bacteria that affects the muscles, had tainted 40 tonnes of its whey protein. Whey is a raw material used in various kinds of food and drinks, mostly dairy products. The tainted batches went to eight food manufacturers, including makers of formula milk.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said: "There is a need to step up random checks on milk formula.
"We are also concerned that the affected ingredients may have been added to other goods, such as dairy products, and have entered Hong Kong. The Centre for Food Safety has to enhance its testing.
"But it would be difficult to take extra samples when it is not known what products are affected, so the tests would be a part of the regular monitoring system."
The city's tougher stance on food tests came two days after Fonterra made the bacterial contamination public.
Ko's move to order wider tests was in response to the revelation of more information implicating the brands, a government source close to the matter said.
Local authorities had not been on "the company's priority list" to disseminate the news when the incident broke out, the source said, without naming the firm.
The New Zealand consulate said it would update Hong Kong's food safety authorities.
Lau Oi-kwok, chairman of the General Chamber of Pharmacy, said all affected products had been taken off the shelves.
A local dealer went ahead with its recall of Karicare, despite the centre having said on Monday that Karicare products outside New Zealand were unaffected.
Cow & Gate, meanwhile, made a precautionary recall of two batches of a formula in Hong Kong and Macau. By yesterday, some 60,000 tins of Cow & Gate formula out of 80,000 tins on the market had been retrieved.
On the mainland, authorities ordered another brand, Abbott, to recall two types of formula.
An Abbott spokeswoman said its products sold in Hong Kong did not use Fonterra ingredients and were not affected.