Prepacked lies: 90 per cent of food sold short

And it may just be tip of iceberg, says Consumer Council after survey shows meat, fish, vegetables and fruit did not match weight on label

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 6:02pm

Grocery shoppers have been told to be on the alert after 90 per cent of prepacked food was found to fall short of its labelled weight in a Consumer Council study.

The council examined 51 samples of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit sold by weight at various Hong Kong Island retailers last month.

The worst case involved a beef steak purchased at an unnamed retailer. The label said it had a net weight of 299.4 grams, but the actual net weight was 241.9g - a discrepancy of almost 20 per cent.

One pack of fish was found to have been sold at nearly 17 per cent more than its actual weight.

Council vice-chairman Philip Leung Kwong-hon said traders selling prepackaged goods without giving the actual net weight were in breach of the Weights and Measures Ordinance.

"The incidence … found in this survey is believed to possibly be the tip of the iceberg," Leung added.

The results of the survey have been referred to the Customs and Excise Department, which enforces the ordinance, and the Centre for Food Safety, which enforces labelling regulations.

Some 43 of the items were less than 10 per cent short of the indicated weight. "Nonetheless," said the council, "given the vast range of prepacked fresh food products and the quantity sold daily at retail stores across the territory, the financial drain on consumers could be considerable, and good profits to the traders."

The council suggested retailers display the weight of a product in all commonly used units to help customers compare prices.

The consumer watchdog also released a survey showing that three brands of toothpaste were found to contain traces of a cancer-linked chemical, but it added that there was no scientific evidence it posed a risk to health.

Colgate Total Professional Whitening, Beverly Hills Formula Total Protection Whitening and Totalcare with Fluoride Whitening were found to contain traces of triclosan, an anti-bacterial agent, the Consumer Council said after conducting tests on 35 toothpastes last month.

Quantities of the chemical - 0.25 per cent, 0.089 per cent and 0.24 per cent, respectively - fell within local and international safety standards. The council said science had yet to prove triclosan was harmful to humans, despite consumer groups calling for it to be taken off shelves.

"All the samples found to contain triclosan were within the limits specified by both mainland regulations as well as those used by the European Union, which is 0.3 per cent," Leung said.

"According to the requirements in Hong Kong, they are not considered problematic."

Hong Kong Customs has announced an investigation into Total in response to the US Food and Drug Administration linking triclosan to cancer in its recent release of Colgate documents summarising toxicology studies. Colgate has repeatedly defended its product as safe, saying it was backed by 80 clinical studies.

A spokeswoman for Dublin-based Beverly Hills Formula said the product in the report was being phased out in favour of a triclosan-free replacement.

Totalcare said triclosan was a common ingredient in toothpaste and levels were well within international standards.