FRUIT and meat are the produce most frequently contaminated in wet markets and could spread disease, a survey has found.
The study by the City Polytechnic found blocked sewers in wet markets and unhygienic practices, such as spitting and smoking by hawkers, were most likely to affect meat and fruits.
The three-month survey by a group from the polytechnic's department of applied social studies found many foodstuffs being sold under poor hygiene conditions.
A member of the Wet Market Study Group and the associate head of the department, Mr Chan Wing-tai, said the unhygienic conditions posed a risk of diseases like salmonella, dysentery and hepatitis.
Data was collected from about 1,000 food stalls at 89 Government and private markets in the territory. Five categories of food stalls selling poultry, fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat were observed and their operators interviewed.
Fruits sold at wet markets were the worst in terms of cleanliness and freshness, adequacy of preservation and environmental hygiene.
The study found 68 per cent of stalls selling fruits without covering and nine per cent placing food for sale on the ground. Insects were found in 19 per cent of the stalls.
Almost as bad as the fruits was meat, as 72 per cent of the food stall owners were not aware of the importance of refrigerating food at the end of each day.
''This means that consumers are often buying day-old meat which has not been properly stored to keep its freshness and quality,'' Mr Chan said.
About 63 per cent sold meat without covering and 12 per cent cut the food on the ground.
The problem of smoking was the most serious among meat sellers, as more than 15 per cent smoked at the stalls.
Other environmental hygiene problems include dirt on ground, walls and tables, and spitting, all common in poultry stalls.
Blocked sewers were found at more than 32 per cent of the markets. Another member of the working group, Dr Leung Kwan-kwok, said this would lead to insects breeding.
Flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches were seen at markets and the problems would be more serious in summer, Dr Leung warned.
Mr Chan said ignorance of consumers and market sellers concerning the proper hygiene standards for food quality accounted for the poor wet market conditions.
''Wet market stalls are generally not properly managed and employees from the municipal councils have been found to be carrying out their inspection routine improperly,'' Mr Chan said.
The working group called on the Government to tighten control over standards for wet market and educate public on proper food hygiene.
Results of the study would be sent to the two municipal councils and Department of Health. The spokesmen from the two municipal councils declined to comment on the findings before they obtained the full report.
Some customers and stall owners at a Quarry Bay wet market found the hygiene conditions acceptable but though improvements were desirable.