【Food Safety Overview】An In-depth Look at Food Safety Concerns and Follow-up Procedures

27/03/2017

  While dining out, it is not uncommon for residents to find foreign matter in the food or beverages served to them or to harbour doubts about the quality of food products they purchased. In both cases, the concerned individuals may consider filing a complaint to the competent authorities in the hope that the authorities will immediately send their staff to suspend the operation of the relevant food establishment to forestall their dubious foodstuffs from entering the market.
 
  When consumers are sceptical about the safety of food products, they may contact the Food Safety Department of the IAM to make their requests and provide sufficient details for law enforcers to take legal actions, like conducting investigation and follow-up. The complainants can reveal information about the shop where they purchased or consumed the dubious food products, the date and time of purchase or consumption, the name and quantity of the purchased or consumed products, as well as the main issue of their complaint. They can leave their contact information for the authorities to follow up the case and respond to their concerns.
 
  Upon receipt of inquiries or complaints, the concerned authorities will conduct investigative follow-up. In the course of action, the concerned authorities will gather evidence besides taking into consideration the information provided by the complainants so as to perform a comprehensive analysis of the case. Firstly, a search is made to the monitoring information contained in the food safety database to preliminarily study and determine the risk level of the case and direction of the investigation. Meanwhile, investigators will visit the concerned establishment to talk to the person in charge so as to understand the details of the case, trace the source of goods, collect on-site evidence of environmental and personal hygiene conditions and take samples of dubious foodstuff for testing. The findings from all the follow-up determines whether the reported case may constitute a hazard to public food safety.
 
  However, members of the public may question why the test results of the food samples provided by complainants can only serve as references. The reason is that test results of food samples shall serve as forensic evidence in future legal procedures. Thus, the collection of samples requires stringency and procedural legality. Many conditions are factored into the handling of food samples, like their storage temperature and duration, sampling tools and transport conditions, which may influence the objectivity and accuracy of the final test results. So, food samples provided by complainants are not the sole basis to determine whether the case is classified as a food safety incident. As mentioned in the investigation process, the Department of Food Safety will perform comprehensive and all-round investigation and evaluation and continuously follow up the case until its cause is identified or the potential food safety risk is removed.
 
  If the case involves a food safety incident or poses risks to human health, the authorities will take appropriate preventive and control measures in accordance with the “Food Safety Law”, like suspend the import and sale of the affected food products, recall and destroy them, and even punishing the person in charge of the concerned establishment. Moreover, relevant information about the incident will be made known to the public, depending on its risk level. Timely updates about development of the incident and explanation of its possible impact are announced publicly for different parties to take countermeasures and to minimise its impact on public health. If it is proved that the issue of complaint in the case does not constitute any food safety risks or is just a common consumer dispute, the authorities will process the case in the manner of handling general comments provided by members of the public and reply to the concerned individual.
 
  It takes the joint efforts of the government, the food trade and residents in safeguarding food safety. The government will handle every opinion and concern with prudence, placing priority on public health. When the public harbour doubts about the safety of any food products, they should avoid eating them and call the Food Safety Hotline (2833 8181) for information.