Food safety center slammed for lax inspections

Local | Cindy Wan 9 May 2019

"Grave dismay" was expressed by the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee towards the Centre for Food Safety over its employees' failure to follow established procedures in checking imported food.

The committee issued a report yesterday, citing examples where officers were found to have violated the guidelines stipulated in their operation manual.

"When it comes to food safety, and when it comes to issues affecting our citizens, we have to take it seriously. That [level of] seriousness is to ensure that the officials doing this work know we are watching them," committee chairman Abraham Shek Lai-him said.

Citing one case from an audit report, the committee found officers allowed importers to select food samples on their own to go through the required radiation tests in five inspections on air-imported food.

As for problems found in their operation in monitoring imports by road, it was revealed officers failed to notice vehicles had evaded inspection at Man Kam To Food Control Office on several occasions.

Nine out of 59 vehicles carrying chilled food consignments passed through the checkpoint at the food control office without being checked at least once, while two had never even driven into the checkpoint during the period of the Audit Commission's inspection between January and April last year.

The food safety center was also criticized for mishandling its inspection records after the committee realized seven vehicles that had entered the Man Kam To office weren't recorded in the official documents as officers had input the vehicle registration numbers incorrectly. Furthermore, the center doesn't have proper verification procedures in regards to management checking the accuracy of data, the committee report said.

The committee placed the blame on the center's middle management, saying they failed to supervise their frontline subordinates in performing their daily routines according to guidelines.

It also urged the center to review the work flow at its food control offices and provide new guidelines to frontline employees.

Shek also said the center needs to strike a balance between monitoring food safety and ensuring the smooth import of food.

A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokeswoman said the department agrees with the committee and will actively implement its suggestions.

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