Enjoying a spicy hotpot may be a popular way to keep the winter chill away, but the excessive preservatives found in the dish's ingredients by Shenzhen's market supervision authorities could give some diners pause.
A report by the Market Supervision Administration found unacceptable levels of benzoic acid and sorbic acid in 38 of 200 samples collected from hotpot restaurants and supermarkets across the city, a popular dining destination for Hongkongers.
The survey found the preservatives in beef tendon balls, pork balls, beef balls and mushroom balls, which the restaurants had bought from various supermarkets in Shenzhen, according to a Xinhua report yesterday.
Excessive levels of benzoic acid can affect the liver and kidneys. Mainland authorities have zero tolerance for its use in fresh foods, like the meat balls.
Two of 27 hotpot soups sampled were also found to contain either excessive preservatives or the dye rhodamine B, a possible carcinogen that is banned in food production.
The report, which was released over the weekend, provided no details about the level of preservatives found in the food samples. Also unknown was the source of the ingredients - and whether any of them had been exported to Hong Kong.
Market supervision officials in Shenzhen could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Apart from the hotpot ingredients, excessive amounts of sulphur dioxide were found in five batches of mushrooms and dried white fungi that were collected from a company in the outlying Baoan district during the same survey, Xinhua said.
Mushroom and white fungi, as well as dried seafood such as abalone and sea cucumbers, are considered must-buy delicacies for consumption around the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts on February 10 this year.
A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said the centre would seek further information from Shenzhen authorities about the findings contained in their report.
"Over the past four months, the centre has received altogether four counts of complaints about the quality of meat balls in the city," the spokesperson said.
Wu Limin , a municipal legislator in Shenzhen, called on the authority to attack the cause of the problem by punishing violators "just as hard as measures targeting on drunk drivers".