PLC Paper No. CB(2) 246
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration
and cleared with the Chairman)
Ref : CB2/PL/HS
- Health and Welfare Branch
- Mr Gregory LEUNG, JP
- Deputy Secretary for Health & Welfare
- Miss WONG Yuet-wah
- Assistant Secretary for Health & Welfare
- Department of Health
- Dr Margaret CHAN, JP
- Director of Health
- Dr K H MAK
- Consultant (Community Medicine)
Regional Services Department
- Mr Adolf H HSU, ISO, JP
- Director of Regional Services
- Mr Fred TING
- Deputy Director (Operations)
- Mr LAI Kwok-tung
- Assistant Director
(Environmental Health Policy)
- Mr YIP Wing-sang
- Legal Adviser/Regional Council
- Urban Services Department
- Ms Elaine CHUNG Lai-kwok
- Director of Urban Services
- Mr LEE Kwok-kuen
- Assistant Director
(Hong Kong) Environmental Health
- Mr Raymond CHAN
- Legal Adviser/Urban Council
Clerk in attendance:
- Mrs Mary TANG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4 (Atg)
Staff in attendance:
- Mr Stanley MA
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 9
I. Discussion on cholera infection and food hygiene
(Paper No. CB(2)2394/96-97 (01) - information paper from the Urban Services Department)
(Paper No. CB(2)2394/96-97 (02) - information paper from the Regional Services Department)
(Paper No. CB(2)2394/96-97 (03) - information paper from the Department of Health)
Briefing by the Administration
The Director of Health (D(H)) explained that on the prevention of cholera, the Department of Health (DH) mainly played an educational role aiming at promoting general awareness of the disease by organizing health education programmes. In addition, DH had taken the following control measures in connection with the recent spate of cholera infections -
- patients homes had been disinfected;
- detailed food histories had been obtained from the patients and their family members covering all the food and drink items they had consumed during the incubation period of five days before onset of disease; and
- the source of infection had been traced by inspecting all the food premises patronized by the patients during the incubation period and suppliers of suspected food items.
D(H) explained that DH played a leading role in co-ordinating different government departments and other providers of health care in this investigation. She pointed out that apart from DH, the health inspectors of the two municipal councils also played an important role in the prevention and control of cholera or other gastrointestinal diseases as they were responsible for inspecting food premises and food factories. In fact, the six cases of cholera recently confirmed were directly linked with the processed food items produced by two licensed food factories in Yuen Long (Tai Yick Food Factory) and Tuen Mun (Jackpot Food Factory). Two other cholera patients were found to have patronized the New Guangdong Seafood Restaurant in Tuen Mun on 10 May 1997 at different times and they all developed cholera on 12 May 1997. Another cholera patient had patronized a mobile food hawker.
D(H) added that in addition to the 13 cholera cases confirmed, there were three carriers of the disease, and one of them had also patronized the New Guangdong Seafood Restaurant.
The Director of Regional Services (DRS) explained that the Regional Council (RC) was the licensing authority for the issue of food business licences and permits in the RC area under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132). Regulations governing food business premises in the RC area were approved by RC and enforced by the Regional Services Department (RSD).
With reference to the RSDs paper, DRS highlighted that up to 30 April 1997, a total of 5,683 food business licences and permits had been issued. Under the existing licensing system, RC applied two sets of standards in determining the suitability for the issue of food business licences, namely, "Licensing Requirements / Conditions for Food Business Premises in Developed Areas" and "Licensing Requirements / Conditions for Food Business Premises in Undeveloped Areas". The difference between these two sets of standards were mainly in respect of building structure, water supply, sanitary fitments and sewage disposal. At present, there were 41 licensed food premises/factories in the "undeveloped" regions of the RC area.
DRS reported that Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factory were told to suspend operation since 14 May 1997 when an order was served to the licensee of each factory requiring him to cleanse and disinfect the premises, and to fill up the wells with concrete. All the food produced by the two factories was subsequently destroyed. DRS pointed out that the use of untreated well water for processing food as practised by these two factories was forbidden under the existing licensing requirements. DRS emphasized that these two food factories would not be allowed to resume operation unless their hygienic conditions reached a level acceptable to DH and RSD.
DRS further reported that a complete round of inspection of all licensed food premises in the RC area would be completed by 24 May 1997. From 1 May to 21 May 1997, 5,084 inspections to licensed food premises had been conducted with 167 summons taken out.
With reference to the Urban Services Departments (USD) paper, Director of Urban Services (DUS) briefed members that the Department had adopted a four-prong action plan against the spread of cholera. It included stepping up inspection of food premises/factories and fish tank water sampling; taking stringent legal action against unlicensed and unhygienic food premises and illegal hawkers; conducting anti-rodent and fly disinfection campaigns; and strengthening publicity on prevention of cholera.
In addition, DUS had enlisted the assistance of the Judiciary in expediting the prosecution of licensees found breaching health requirements and/or operators of unlicensed food premises/factories. The Demerit Points System was also under review and it would be strengthened to provide greater incentive for licensees to make improvements. Upon USDs request, food business licensees had agreed to display their licences more prominently so that the public could tell whether they were patronising a licensed restaurant.
Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factory
Members queried why the health inspectors of RSD had failed to spot the unauthorized use of well water for processing food in both Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factory, especially when the former had been inspected for more than 70 times. DRS replied stating that RSD was conducting an internal investigation to find out why the poor hygienic conditions and the unauthorized use of well water at the two factories had not been detected. He briefed members that the investigation would be completed in about one month, and RSD would take this opportunity to review the operational procedures of the health inspectors as well. He stressed that the lessons learnt from these incidents would be useful to the review, and agreed that the investigation report could be released to the public if necessary.
A member noted that Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factory were opened in 1986 and 1990 respectively which was not a long time ago. He wanted to know the reason for not imposing more stringent hygienic requirements on the two factories.
In response, Assistant Director (Environmental Health Policy) (AD(EHP)) of RSD explained that lower licensing standards had been applied to the two factories because they were located in undeveloped areas with inadequate infrastructures. For example, if the food factor was located in an area where there was no main water supply or public sewer, the operator would be allowed to use stream water or well water for processing food and soil water to be discharged to septic tanks. However, AD(EHP) stressed that their operations would be governed by the same requirements and conditions as those operating in developed areas. He pointed out that RSD was considering to revise and update the licensing requirements for food business premises in undeveloped areas. A report on the review and recommendations for improvement would be submitted to RC for approval in about four weeks time. In the interim, DRS agreed that no new licences would be issued to food business premises in undeveloped areas.
In response to a members enquiry, D(H) gave an account of the process in tracing the source for the outbreak of cholera, and how it came to confirm that Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factory were the sources. Replying to a further question from the member, D(H) explained that cholera was an acute bacterial disease transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food or water. The best measures for the prevention of cholera were the provision of safe water supply and observance of food, personal and environmental hygiene.
The food labelling system
Members urged the Administration to consider implementing a labelling system for processed food so that their expiry date could be shown on the labels. In response, D(H) reported that the matter would be pursued by the inter-departmental committee recently set up to review and monitor hygiene control system in Hong Kong. D(H) was of the view that labelling of processed food could be introduced by phases. She suggested that retailers should be required to keep properly invoices of processed food and to pack them in plastic bags with labels indicating the expiry date of the food. D(H) informed members that DH would co-ordinate with the two municipal councils in sorting out the arrangements for the labelling system. As the introduction of the labelling system would involve amending the food business bylaws of the two municipal councils, DRS and DUS estimated that it would take about three months to draft the legal amendments and to work out more concrete details.
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At members enquiries, D(H) revealed that the inter-departmental committee chaired by her comprised representatives from RSD, USD, the Government Information Services Department and the Housing Department. It would meet every year before the approach of summer to make preparation for the prevention and control of foodborne diseases. The committee would consider submitting reports to this Panel if deemed necessary.
The monitoring and control system of food premises/factories
In reply to members enquiries on the control of food business premises under existing legislation, DUS and Deputy Director (Operations) (DD(O)) of RSD reported the following -
- Unlicensed food premises/factories, whether under application or not, were subject to prosecution. Under Section 128 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap.132), RSD/USD could apply for a court order to prohibit an unlicenced food operator from using the premises for food business purposes. In the case of a breach of the Prohibition Order, a Closure Order could be applied. DD(O) reported that over the past year, RSD had applied for over 300 Prohibition Orders and had taken out 800 summonses on operators who had ignored the Prohibition Orders served to them.
- Prosecution action would be taken by RSD/USD against licensed food premises/factories which had been found breaching health requirements. If the licensees were convicted of any offence specified in the Schedule of Demerit Points, a prescribed number of demerit points would be registered against the licensees. The demerit points accumulated by a licensee would be used in considering the need for suspension or cancellation of his licence or permit.
- At present, power was only conferred upon D(H) under Section 19 of the Prevention of the Spread of Infectious Diseases Regulations to close a building in connection with any infectious disease.
(d) DD(O) indicated that RSD would review the need to confer the power of closing the premises on DRS in a bid to accelerate the closure. DUS reported that Urban Councillors were also of the view that DUS should be given the power to close premises on public health grounds without the need to go through the court process. The proposals were being studied by RSD and USD.
DD(O) supplemented that over the last year, RSD had applied for four Closure Orders. For USD, there had been 276 suspensions and four cancellation of licences in the same period of time.
In response to the Chairmans enquiry, DD(O) revealed that ever since the establishment of RSD, the power conferred under Section 125 of Cap. 132 had not been exercised by the Department to refuse renewal of a food business licence on the grounds that the licensee was in contravention of any provision of the Ordinance or of any licensing condition. He explained that the Department had preferred to prosecute the licensees concerned and took punishment on them only after they were convicted by the court.
On the Selective Inspection System, DUS explained that the three grades under the system only served as reference points for USD to determine the frequency of inspection to be conducted at each licensed food premise. She pointed out that those classified as "Grade C" food premises had adequate basic facilities to meet all licensing requirements. She assured that these Grade C premises also had adequate facilities to meet the licensing requirements. The fact that they were categorized "Grade C" was only because irregularities were found in their operations (e.g. inadequate cleansing and hygiene) thereby giving rise to demerit points.
Members generally considered that the existing punishment in the form of financial penalties lacked deterrent effect to the convicted licensees or the unlicensed operators of food premises/factories. They were also of the view that the lengthy process for hearing of cases by the court had rendered the existing control system ineffective in dealing with substandard and/or unlicensed food premises/factories. They opined that those premises operating under very poor conditions should be ordered for closure immediately for the sake of public health.
A member suggested to make it a statutory requirement for licensees of food premises to display records at entrances to indicate their grading in terms of food hygiene and cleanliness of the premises. He also took the view that labels on the packages of food should reveal the grade achieved by the food manufacturers. DRS agreed to give thought to the suggestions.
A member enquired if DH would consider requiring licensees of food premises/factories to provide medical examinations for their employees to ensure that those recruited as food handlers were not suffering from infectious diseases. In reply, D(H) stated that it was more important for DH to step up publicity and to promote personal, environmental and food hygiene amongst those engaged in food business.
DRS agreed that strengthening food hygiene programmes for food handlers was important and informed members that commencing from June 1997, RSD would organize courses on food hygiene for people engaged in food business. Participants would be required to be at supervisory or managerial level. Subject to acceptance by RC, RSD would propose to introduce a new licensing requirement to require at least one staff member of the prescribed level to have completed the food hygiene course as one of the licensing conditions for a food premise/factory. DUS reported that USD had also adopted the same requirement as a condition for renewal of food business licences. As a start, all Category C operators would be invited to attend USD seminars scheduled between 2 June and 17 June 1997.
DUS reported that at present there were about 270 inspectorate officers who had to conduct inspections for around 9,200 licensed food premises/factories in the urban areas. DUS considered that there was a need to strengthen the training of these officers. To alleviate the heavy workload of the inspectorate officers, USD would conduct a trial scheme for foreman grade staff, rather than inspectors, to investigate complaints of dripping of water of air conditioners.
In response to a members enquiry, D(H) clarified that her criticism on the substandard personal hygiene of food handlers as quoted by the media recently, referred only to those of the New Guangdong Seafood Restaurant.
The Chairman commented that the hygienic conditions of food premises could not be improved only by the efforts of the staff. He considered that the employers incentive to invest and provide the necessary facilities was vital to fostering a hygienic environment for the premises. He requested the Administration to explore ways and means of improvement in this regard. The Chairman also took the view that the cases of the Tai Yick Food Factory and Jackpot Food Factories had reflected ineffectiveness of the monitoring system of food premises/factories. He urged the Administration to take immediate action to rectify the situation.
The Health and Welfare Branch would be responsible for co-ordinating the reviews of the respective food business bylaws undertaken by the two municipal councils.
The meeting ended at 6:20 pm.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
4 September 1997
Last Updated on 19 August 1998