It’s a bit late now, say Hong Kong suppliers as majority of recalled US eggs have probably been eaten

Centre for Food Safety’s notice comes too late for any real action as buyers fail to send back any eggs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 11:14pm

More than 2 million imported eggs that may be contaminated with salmonella will have mostly been eaten already, Hong Kong traders said on Wednesday.

The eggs, brought in from the United States, were bought in February and March and sold to hotels and restaurants which will have probably already used them, they said.

Local firms Luen Tai Hong, General Hero and Shun Hing Hoo said they were still trying to recall as many eggs as they could, but had not received any from their buyers by Wednesday afternoon.

“Normally eggs should be consumed in 90 days and it would have taken 40 days to export them from the US to Hong Kong,” Young Kam-yin, owner of Luen Tai Hong, said.

“I doubt if any are still being sold on the market – even if they are stored, they might have already been thrown away. There is a good chance they have already been eaten.” 

A recall of the eggs was ordered on Tuesday after a salmonella scare in the US was linked to Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County farm in North Carolina, which supplies five of Hong Kong’s egg traders.

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement last Friday, recalling about 200 million eggs, after 22 illnesses linked to eating them were reported.

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On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government’s Centre for Food Safety said it had stopped all imports and sales of poultry eggs from Rose Acre Farms.

Traders questioned what the point of the recall was when most of the eggs were sold months ago.

“Let’s say you ate the eggs in December and now we tell you it’s problematic. Isn’t it a bit too late?
Mr Au, manager at General Hero

A manager at General Hero, who gave his name only as Au, said he felt “quite helpless” trying to recall eggs from wholesalers who had been given the green light by the US Department of Agriculture, and the centre, in January.

“Let’s say you ate the eggs in December and now we tell you it’s problematic. Isn’t it a bit too late?” he said.

The centre said early investigations found traders had already brought in about 6,000 cartons of eggs in different batches, which would add up to more than 2 million eggs. However, no exact number was available, and nor were details on when the eggs came into Hong Kong, where they were sold or under which brands.

Luen Tai Hong guessed that maybe only 10 per cent of the 6,000 cartons imported, or 200,000 eggs, might be recalled. General Hero and Shun Hing Hoo gave an even lower estimate.

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Young, meanwhile, said the 800 cartons his firm imported had already been sold to wholesalers.

The three suppliers said they were unhappy at the “late notice” from the centre, when the FDA statement came out last Friday.

A man surnamed Kwok, who is in charge of Shun Hing Hoo, shared Au’s sentiment. He said all cartons of eggs were cleared for export and sale before redistribution in February, and only a few cartons were randomly inspected. 

“Are they saying we should check each and every carton, pushing the burden of proof to us importers?” Kwok said. “At least give us a heads-up earlier and don’t issue a recall after things have happened.” 

Shun Hing Hoo had several hundred cartons of eggs, most of which were sold to hotels and restaurants. Kwok would not name the firm’s customers, and added that the FDA statement only said the eggs had the “potential to be contaminated”. 

He also noted Shun Hing Hoo had imported from Rose Acre Farms for more than 10 years and there had been no major issues in that time. 

Asked why it had taken four days to alert local consumers, a spokesman for the centre insisted it had “immediately taken action” after the FDA issued the notice.

Democratic Party legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan said four days to file the alert was “too long” and urged the centre to explain itself to the public.

“Whenever doubt is cast on the safety of food, the authority should alert the public first. They can remove the alert when verified safe later,” Wong said.

Food traders estimated eggs from the US made up only a quarter of the 5 million eggs Hongkongers consume each day, so a recall from one farm producer would not affect the operations of restaurants or bakeries. 

The centre also stressed salmonella would not survive under high temperatures and the bacteria would die if the eggs were thoroughly cooked.

Salmonella bacteria can cause fever and gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. 

“The effect on infants, the elderly and people with a weak immune system could be more severe and sometimes may even lead to death,” a centre spokesman said.

The spokesman advised consumers avoid eating raw or partially cooked eggs and egg products.

Tai Cheong Eggs Company, the fourth affected supplier, was not available for comment, while the fifth, Maxim’s Caterers, had not used any of the eggs it bought and would dispose of them.

Maxim’s did not say how many cartons it imported.

Inquiries about the recall can be made to General Hero at 2381 9138, Shun Hing Hoo at 2543 4655, Tai Cheong Eggs Company at 2546 1834 and Luen Tai Hong at 2857 9389 during office hours.