Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Slurp safely: restaurant soups too salty, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Large-scale survey by Consumer Council and Centre for Food Safety saw one offender containing more sodium than recommended daily intake in single serving

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 2:37pm

The relatively high sodium content in soups served at restaurants may cause diners to exceed their recommended daily salt intake without even realising the problem, the Consumer Council has warned.

Among the worst culprits was a sample of tom yum soup from a Thai restaurant, a 240-gram serving of which contained 2,016 milligrams of sodium.

The World Health Organisation suggests an intake of no more than 2,000mg, or one level teaspoon of salt, per day, with a target of reducing this by another 30 per cent by 2025.

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Teaming up with the Centre for Food Safety, the watchdog conducted a large-scale survey of 13 types of Chinese, Western and Asian-style soups commonly served at the city’s eateries.

A total of 130 samples were collected between August and November last year. Five pre-packaged soups sold at retail outlets were also tested.

While the tom yum soup took “top honours”, second on the list was a hot and sour soup from a Shanghainese restaurant chain that contained 1,608mg of sodium per serving.

Leading the Western-style category was a borsch served at a cha chaan teng – or Hong Kong tea cafe – which contained 1,320mg of sodium.

Doctor Samuel Yeung Tze-kiu, the centre’s principal medical officer, said that while sodium is essential for a healthy diet, excessive consumption for prolonged periods may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease or increase the chances of stroke.

He pointed out that while people might cut down consumption of sauces and condiments to avoid salt, soups were often overlooked, although they constituted the second major source of sodium for Hong Kong’s adult population.

For the more health-conscious, certain Chinese-style soups might be their go-to option. For example, a soup from a dim sum restaurant made with kudzu root, a type of pea plant, had only 65mg of sodium.

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Michael Hui King-man from the council urged restaurants to gradually reduce the amount of salt added to dishes, so diners would not be as likely to notice the difference, while salt shakers could also be removed from dining tables.

Responding to the council’s findings, most restaurants agreed to reduce sodium levels in their dishes, though some were worried that this would turn off customers who preferred a “stronger” taste.

To address the public’s demand for a healthier diet, the government set up the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food last March.

Answering a lawmaker’s enquiry last week on what the committee had achieved so far, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the committee was inclined to adopt a non-legislative approach and instead urge the industry to voluntarily reduce the amount of salt and sugar in food.

He expected measures, such as public education programmes and industry incentive schemes, to be rolled out later this year.