Dozens of fresh-food suppliers were slapped with warnings last year for failing to store chilled meat properly, lawmakers heard yesterday.
One supplier was in danger of losing its licence as it had been selling frozen poultry as fresh meat despite repeated warnings, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said.
The department was criticised by the administration watchdog in October for lax monitoring of shops that sold frozen products.
"In response to the Ombudsman's recommendations, the department will increase the frequency of surprise checks on fresh-food suppliers that sell chilled meat and poultry," undersecretary for food and health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee told a Legislative Council panel on food safety and hygiene.
The department issued 48 verbal warnings and 10 warning letters to such suppliers last year, Chan said.
In October, the Ombudsman said that of 46 vendors at seven wet markets, 26 did not fulfil the licensing requirement to keep frozen meat below 4 degrees Celsius. Chilled chickens were sold in plastic containers with no refrigeration, and some were displayed without cooling containers, to make them appear fresh.
Its report accused the department of a lack of inspections, ineffective informal warnings and allowing shops too much time to rectify their problems.
Steven Ho Chun-yin, the lawmaker for the agriculture sector, said there had been many complaints of vendors passing off chilled poultry as fresh.
Legislator Wu Chi-wai said the errant supplier should have lost its licence when it was found to have breached hygiene conditions, instead of being issued with repeated warnings.
Chan said the department would refuse to process the licence renewal application of a supplier that had committed repeated breaches.
It had also formulated clear guidelines to define minor breaches and enforcement action, to be observed strictly by inspection officers, she said.
She added that the department was vigilant in acting against irregularities related to the storage and sale of chilled meat at improper temperatures.