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China food safety

The wait is over ... Chinese hairy crab back on the menu in Hong Kong, but only from 10 vendors

Contamination scare kept the delicacy out of Hong Kong restaurants for a year

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 10:32pm

Hairy crab fans can finally get ready to tuck in after the season’s first batch went on sale in Hong Kong on Friday following a year-long ban due to contaminated crustaceans failing government safety tests.

Restaurants were planning to get the delicacy back on their menus after a delivery of hairy crabs to the city passed quality controls sooner than expected.

The supply, from Datong Lake in Hunan province, weighing 500kg, entered Hong Kong last Friday after a block on imports of the Chinese mitten crabs, popularly known as hairy crabs.

But local authorities last Friday asked vendors to hold onto the crabs for up to 14 days until the release of safety test results for the batch, which included a test for the cancer-causing chemicals dioxins.

Now proved safe for consumption, the hairy crabs were made available by about 10 sellers on Friday.

One of those, Tommy Chan Tiu-ming, the owner of Shanghai New Sam Yung Market, said a hairy crab weighing about 189 grams would be sold for between HK$130 and HK$150.

He said that price was about 10 per cent higher than before the ban because of rises in transport fees and costs incurred from extra tests by mainland suppliers.

What’s behind the ban on hairy crabs from the mainland and what Hongkongers can do about it

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said a safety test would not be necessary for future exports from the same Hunan supplier.

But she advised vendors wishing to source crabs from other mainland suppliers to import only a small number before bulk buying because they would have to go through the same exams.

“We will put mainland hairy crabs back on the menu as our guests have been waiting a very long time,” said Thomas Woo Chu, director of Hsin Kuang Restaurant Group. “They will probably be more expensive but I believe diners won’t mind because they like the mainland breed.”

But Woo said he would first have to look at the quality of the Hunan supply because the most craved kinds were from Jiangsu province, where two popular breeding grounds – Yangcheng Lake and Lake Tai – are found.

Mainland halt on hairy crab exports keeps them off the menu in Hong Kong, as peak season nears

“Although some restaurants used Taiwanese or Japanese crabs as substitutes, most people still prefer mainland breeds because their scent and freshness are superior,” he said.

Imports of mainland hairy crabs were suspended due to a contamination scandal in November last year in which samples were found to have excessive levels of the carcinogens dioxin and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls.