Many residents like to buy native food products during their travelling abroad and bring them back to Macao to share with friends and relatives. Nevertheless, these souvenirs could be potentially hazardous to health. Lately, there were reports of residents feeling unwell or suffering from gastroenteritis after eating fresh or ready-to-eat cold food products taken back to Macao from abroad by their friends or relatives.
What kind of food is not a suitable souvenir to be taken back to Macao?
Many residents have made trips to neighbouring regions and countries over recent years. Usually, they will buy some local food delicacies during their travel and bring them back to Macao. Moreover, some native food products of distant countries can be ordered through online community groups that offered Buy-on-your-Behalf Service.
Of this variety of food products, there are ready-to-eat ones that are fresh and/or cold, like frozen dessert, Chinese-style poached food (lou-mei), and those using egg and milk as ingredients. As these food products are rich in protein and water content, they are more susceptible to spoilage and should never be subject to long-distance transport over extensive time periods under the temperature danger zone (between 5℃ and 60℃). Residents should refrain from choosing these food products as souvenirs as far as possible.
What makes taking a few boxes of sandwiches and cream cakes back to Macao from abroad a dangerous move?
Probably, many residents have done this before. But the potential food safety risk involved in long-distance transport of these ready-to-eat food products that require refrigeration must not be overlooked.
The processing technology that food producers would apply in food manufacturing is determined by the objective of sales, transport and storage conditions of the finished products and the dietary habits of consumers. It would directly affect the requirements to safeguarding their shelf life and quality. For some ready-to-eat food products which are manufactured locally in the destinations of travel, they are intended for local sales and are not produced in mass quantities. Their shelf life is usually rather short, spanning from one day to less than two hours. These products cannot withstand transport to places abroad without sufficient refrigeration or freezing equipment; no matter they are carried personally by the traveler or through courier service.
If food products are already exposed to pathogenic contamination during their production or processing, the long-distance transport of these products under temperature danger zone (between 5℃ and 60℃) is conducive to growth of pathogenic bacteria, which may produce toxins. Consumption of these contaminated products could possibly result in sickness.
When sandwiches, cream cakes or famous delicacies of Macao, like egg tarts and biscuit mousse, go through long-distance transport under poor hygiene condition and inappropriate temperature, the food safety risk involved is heightened. It becomes necessary to consider the properties of the food products before purchase and how to ensure their proper storage and transport. For the aforesaid fresh and/or cold ready-to-eat food products, they should be eaten promptly for safety’s sake.
The food has been placed in insulation bag or box during transport, what’s the reason behind its spoilage?
The insulation bag or box is not a substitute for refrigerated truck or freezer since it could merely delay the thawing of refrigerated or frozen food. When food products are transported by car or plane instead of refrigerated truck or freezer during the hot weather, they are susceptible to spoilage due to the high-temperature environment of the compartment of the car or baggage cabin. Besides temperature, the duration of transport and many other factors would also affect the safety of food.
Residents should take note of the following:
It is not advisable to buy fresh or refrigerated food products as souvenirs during outbound travel.
The purchased fresh food products should be eaten promptly. Never keep them at room temperature for over two hours.
Make inquiry to the vendor about the proper way of storage for the purchased food products.
Read the label on the packaging of food products carefully and check the expiry date.
If there are doubts about the source and safety of the food products or abnormalities found in them, do not buy or consume them.
Purchase of food products from abroad through online shopping or Buy-on-your-Behalf Service is high-risk taking. The vendors and buyers must be aware of the potential risks involved in the source, preparation, packaging, storage and transport of the concerned products as well as their after-sale handling.
There are laws and regulations governing the bringing in of food products into Macao from abroad. In accordance with Law No. 7/2003 and Writ of Instruction of the Chief Executive No. 452/2011, importers of fresh and live food products and products of animal origin to Macao are required to submit an import declaration to competent authorities and the products are subject to hygiene inspection and quarantine.