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  • 1999.04.15

Consumer Council test on preserved fruits prompts call for better legislative control on preservatives used and product labelling

If preserved fruits are your favourite, you owe it to yourself to ensure that they are up to standard in: Hygiene Condition, Food Additives, and Product Labelling.

A Consumer Council test has shown that these three essential safety criteria are not always met.

A total of 36 samples of preserved fruits, namely, mango, plum, pineapple, kumquat, and ginger, obtained from a diversity of retail outlets, including street hawkers, were subjected to the test.

Hygiene Condition

5 samples (1preserved mango, 2 preserved kumquat and 2 preserved plum) were detected to contain mould, ranging from 30 to 440 moulds per gram.

The presence of mould on the surface of a food indicates that it may contain decomposed material. As certain strains of mould may induce allergic reactions or produce toxins, it is advisable for consumers to avoid such mouldy food.

Food Additives

On preservatives, 7samples (5 preserved mango and 2 preserved pineapple) were found to contain Sulphur dioxide in excess of the legal limit of 100 ppm. The legal limit is applicable to samples labelled to contain sugar in the ingredient list, as is the case with these 7 samples.

Though Sulphur dioxide is affirmed as Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the preservative could provoke a reaction in sensitive or allergic persons particularly asthmatics. The symptoms reported ranged from stomachache, difficulty in breathing to anaphylactic shock.

The other preservatives present, benzoic acid and sorbic acid, were found to be within the legal limit.

On colouring matters, the samples were subjected to tests for the presence of a total of 15 (13 non-permitted and 2 permitted) colouring matters.

2 samples (preserved kumquat) were detected with a non-permitted colouring matter, Orange G, which though not a carcinogen, is prohibited because the dye is not evaluated to be safe for consumption and it has been eliminated from the permitted list of other countries.

It is possible that the samples may contain other prohibited colouring matters which are outside the scope of the test as there are so many of them.

On artificial sweetener, 5 samples (preserved plum) were found to contain a high quantity of the artificial sweetener saccharin – consuming a reference amount of 30g per day (about14 pieces of preserved plum) would have exceeded 10,000 ppm, the WHO's ADI (World Health Organisation's Acceptable Daily Intake) for a 60 kg body weight adult.

Saccharin which has as weetness of about 300 times of table sugar, is a permitted sweetener in Hong Kong and its upper limit is not regulated.

Product Labelling

Only 3 out of 26prepackaged preserved fruit samples were in full compliance of the Food and Drugs(Composition and Labelling) Regulations. According to the Regulations, an additive constituting one of the ingredients of a food should be listed by its specific name or by the appropriate category or by both name and category.

The majority (14) of the 20 prepackaged samples containing preservatives did not disclose the appropriate category nor the specific name of preservative as legally required. Among the 19 samples containing sulphur dioxide, only 5 were labelled to contain "preservative" but none declared "sulphur dioxide" as the preservative.

18 of the 27 samples containing saccharin also did not have the artificial sweetener labelled as legally required.

Under the Preservatives in Food Regulations, for food such as sausages, liquid coffee, tea extract,and pickles that are not sold in labelled containers, retail outlets are required to exhibit a notice in a conspicuous position easily readable by consumers to indicate the presence of preservatives.

However, at present, preserved fruits are not covered by the Preservatives in Food Regulations. In view of the increasing popularity of preserved fruits in Hong Kong, the Consumer Council recommends that the Regulation be extended to cover also preserved fruits.

The Council also recommends that the specific names of food additives should be required to be identified in the labelling of prepackaged food products. People sensitive to food additives such as sulphur dioxide or a common permitted yellow colouring matter tartrazine (which may cause itching or hives) would be able to avoid food containing such additives.

EMSD test on tower and box fans reveals equally disappointing results in safety of electric fans

Consumers are again urged to exercise the utmost caution in the use of domestic electric fans.

In a test report,published by the Consumer Council last month, it was revealed that over 80% of electric fans of the types under test comprising table fans, slide/pedestal fans and wall fans were found to fall short of the safety requirements.

The latest test on two other main types - the tower and box fans – conducted by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD), shows that the safety of these fans is also far from satisfactory.

NONE of the 22samples tested by EMSD were in full compliance of the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) safety standard on electric fans. The samples comprised largely tower fans (6)and box fans (13).

Results of the EMSD test, published today in CHOICE, have resulted in the product recall of 4 models of electric fan: Pierre Cardin HST-IT and PCF-219, Fatat FT-830, Super S-10. Consumers possessing these 4 models are advised to stop using the products and contact the relevant agents or suppliers.

Meanwhile, the EMSD will take actions against another 2 models of electric fan: Yingzuan KYT-30 and Garlo clip fan (without model number) prohibiting their supply in Hong Kong under the provision of the Electricity Ordinance. Consumers are strongly recommended not to use a prohibited electrical product.

In another development, suppliers have ceased the sales of some of the models in question. Some agents also undertook to improve the safety of their products and subsequently submitted samples of the improved products for type test in laboratory to indicate that they are incompliance with the relevant safety standard.

The EMSD is closely monitoring the safety of electrical products and may take legal action against traders supplying unsafe electrical products in the market.

Users are strongly advised to always use electric fans with the utmost caution and be wary of any abnormal operation of their electric fans such as: difficult to start, excessive noise or overheating.

They should immediately stop operating electric fans that show signs of abnormality, and have the products checked by qualified electricians.

Consumers are also urged to consult this April issue of CHOICE in their choice and use of electric fans. Highlights of the latest test findings include:

  • 15 of the 22 samples fail in the creep age distances and clearances that ensure sufficient separation between live parts or separation between live part and accessible part. This poses potential hazards of short circuit, flashover or electric shock.
  • 10 samples fail in resistance to heat that may result in the deformation under pressure at high temperature of the plastic material, in particular those supporting live parts in position. 3 samples fail in resistance to fire in that the plastic material may be set on fire under high heat and allow the fire to propagate.
  • 12 samples have unsatisfactory earthing connection due to improper length of the earth wire or insecure means of fixing, giving rise to the potential risk of electric shock.
14 samples, particularly most box fans, have unsatisfactory design of their protective guards that cannot prevent fingers from touching the fast moving fan blades.

Considerable variations in airline practice in handling lost baggage complaints: some fare distinctly better than others

Airlines vary considerably in their practice in handling consumer complaints of lost baggage.

The problem of lost baggage could befall any air travellers: statistics of the U.S. Department of Transportation indicate that the rate of mishandled-baggage reports per 1,000 passengers was 5.16.

When it does happen,such variations in airline practice could well mean the difference of timely help and despair on your next vacation trip abroad. Included in this April issue of CHOICE are compared the policies on lost baggage of 13 airlines operating here.

The report points out that the majority of airlines follow the IATA resolutions concerning baggage handling and compensate lost or damaged baggage in accordance with the Warsaw Convention.

By and large, unless a higher value is declared in advance and additional charges are paid, the liabilities of most airlines for lost of checked baggage are limited to US$20 per kilogram. For lost of unchecked (hand-carried) baggage the compensation is a maximum of US$400 per passenger.

But what takes only 4days for some airlines to officially declare lost a baggage reported missing might take others up to 40 days to do so. On the settlement of claims for compensation, some airlines were able to offer settlement within 2 weeks while others as many as 8 weeks.

But airlines do provide emergency reimbursement, with invoice support as required by individual airlines,for purchasing necessities (provided the customer is a non-resident at station where baggage is not received) if it is known that the baggage will not be retrieved, recovered and delivered within 24 hours.

The amount payable to passengers which will be deducted from the final compensation settlement if lost baggage is finally unable to be located, varies from airline to airline depending on individual policies:

  • One airline offers a Standard Payment of US$50.
  • One offers an Essential Purchase allowance of HK$400 on the first day and HK$200 on the second day, or a maximum of HK$600 per case, for first and business class passengers while HK$300 and HK$200 respectively, or a maximum of HK$500 per case, for the economy class.
  • Another offers an Interim Payment of $800 for first and business class and HK$500 for economy class but the actual amount payable differs from country to country depending on the respective living standard. For instance, if the baggage is lost in Japan, then the passenger may receive an Interim Payment of JPY15,000 instead of HK$800 and JPY10,000 instead of HK$500 for first/business class and economy class respectively.
  • One airline offers immediately overnight kits consisting of T-shirt/shorts, toiletries/brush, comb and detergent to non-resident passengers. Monetary compensation will be assessed individually and accordingly.
  • Another offers passengers 50% of the cost of essential purchases or up to a maximum of CAD150 upon the presentation of receipts.

Air travellers are reminded that items commonly excluded from airlines' liabilities include: perishable items such as fruits and meat, valuable items as notebook computer and mobile phone, jewellery,securities, cash, business documents, electronic devices, medicines, samples and identification papers. So, don't pack these items in checked baggages.

Consumers are also advised to always attach name, address and telephone number both on the outside and inside of each piece of checked baggage; remove all old destination labels from previous trips.

If consumers intend to bring valuable items, or the total value of baggage exceeds the maximum liability of the airlines, they are advised to consider the purchase of travel insurance.

Consumers should weigh the difference in benefits between the insurance company and the airline in respect of compensation of lost baggage.

When claiming for lost baggage against insurance companies, consumers must report the loss to, but not file claims against, the airlines or the carriers within 24 hours of the occurrence. Otherwise,insurance companies regard this as a breach of contract, and will not be responsible for any compensation.

Consumers beware of hair salon malpractices: if the price appears to be too good to be true, it probably is

The Consumer Council has recently received a spate of consumer complaints alleging deceitful practices by hair salons which advertise very low prices to lure customers.

According to the complainants, all ended up paying substantially more than what they were led to believe. The undesirable trade practices include:

  • A complainant was taken to an inner room of the hair salon and later presented with a bill of $293 which she thought should be $58. The shop contended that the hair salon in fact operates two different shops with different hairdressers and thus the difference in price.
  • A complainant had her hair dyed and afterwards was charged $218 which she thought was $150. The shop explained that it was because a different colour (brown) was used for the dye instead of black.
  • A complainant was attracted by a hair parlour notice of $40 for shampoo/cut/blow dry. In the course of it, a female staff suddenly applied a quantity of cream on his hair. He was later billed $670 because of the special hair treatment which he was literally forced to receive.
  • A complainant was asked before the shampoo if she had any particular hairdresser whom she preferred. She randomly chose one of the numbers designated to the hairdressers. Later she was charged $161 – as opposed to $59 – because of this particular request.

There were 33 complaints related to hair dressing in the first 3 months of this year compared with 58 for the whole of last year, 34 for 1997 and 28 for 1996.

Consumers are advised to clearly ascertain the price before service and to pay attention to any price notice that may be posted inconspicuously in the shop premises. Be firm and insist on your rights. Obtain a receipt with details of charges in case you need to pursue the matter further.

The Millennium Bug

The Consumer Council is taking an active role in an effort to enhance consumer awareness and understanding of the Y2K issue as it affects our daily life.

With the assistance of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau (ITBB), the Council is launching a series of comprehensive articles to help consumers for a smooth transition into the new millennium.

The series will appear regularly in the Council's monthly magazine CHOICE beginning this April issue. The objective is to alert consumers to potential Y2K problems and educate them on the correct ways to deal with the situation.

It will cover areas which the consumer public may worry about – household electrical and electronic appliances, public utilities and essential services, public transport and aviation, banking and financial services, emergency service, etc. – and offer guidance on what consumers could do when obtaining goods and services affected by the millennium bug.