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  • 1999.06.15

Hygiene condition of dim sum generally satisfactory with exception of some Coliform-contaminated rice rolls

Hygiene-conscious dim sum lovers pay heed. Dim sums in major Chinese restaurant chains are, by and large, served in good hygiene condition.

The Consumer Council conducted a pilot test on 6 types of popular dim sum - shrimp dumpling, glutinous rice dumpling, barbecued pork bun, chicken feet, beef rice rolls and mango pudding.

The test showed that all samples were free from food poisoning bacteria: Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens.

And, with a few exceptions, they were judged to be satisfactory in hygiene condition.

The exceptions were found in some of the beef rice roll samples which were detected to be contaminated with Coliform.

For further investigation34 samples of rice rolls with beef, shrimps, barbecued pork and vegetables from 10restaurants were obtained and put to the test.

E. coli, the predominant bacteria found in human gut and feces, was used as a hygiene indicator. While some strains of E. coli are quite harmless, others may cause diarrhea and vomiting.

According to the Department of Health's "Microbiological Guideline for Ready-to-Eat Food," the E. coli count per gram of food is assessed in 4 grading:

  • Grade A (satisfactory with < 20 E. coli);
  • Grade B (acceptable with 20 - < 100 E. coli);
  • Grade C (unsatisfactory with 100 - < 10,000 E. coli); and
  • Grade D (not acceptable/potentially hazardous with > 10,000 E. coli).

The results for rice rolls, in accordance with the Guideline, are as follows:

  • Of the 34 samples, 3 samples (2 barbecued pork and 1 shrimp rice rolls) were found "unsatisfactory" with a E. coli count of 430, 930 and 2,400.
  • 1 beef rice roll sample was found "not acceptable/potentially hazardous" with a E. coli count of 240,000.
  • 8 samples were found "acceptable" as they had a E. coli count of less than 100.
  • 22 samples were found "satisfactory" with virtually none or less than 20 E. coli.

The 4 samples in Grade C or D were not confined to any one type of ingredients nor any particular Chinese restaurant chain. Full results of the test are released today in the latest (272) issue of the Council's monthly magazine.

The Council has notified the Department of health, Urban Services Department and Regional Services Department of its findings on dim sums.

The Department of Health has observed that the preparation of rice rolls differs from other dim sum as it requires further handling after being cooked. The presence of E. coli in rice rolls may be associated with the hygiene condition of the food handlers and cross-contamination.

The Council has these check points to offer to food handlers:

  • Cook food thoroughly to the temperature of 71°C or above to kill bacteria including E. coli.
  • Make sure food reheated by microwave or other means has thoroughly reached 71°C.
  • Refrain from placing cooked food at a room temperature for prolonged period of time.
  • Prevent contamination from raw (uncooked) ingredients.
  • Use different sets of cookware for raw and cooked food.
  • Food handlers should observe proper hygiene practice.
  • Don't judge whether beef has been thoroughly cooked solely by the color, as studies have concluded that fresh beef may turn brown even before cooking temperature has reached 71°C.

Energy efficiency of split-type air-conditioners comes under scrutiny

Is energy efficiency the one consideration to which you attach great importance in the choice of an air-conditioner?

A Consumer Council test on 15 split-type air-conditioners has shown that an air-conditioner of better energy efficiency can make a significant difference in savings on power consumption.

The test revealed a difference of 33% (or $507 a year) in the estimated annual running cost of electricity of the models ranging from $1,042 to $1,549.

The Council also studied, for the first time, the accuracy of the claims made by manufacturers on the energy efficiency labels.

Of the 15 models, 3 had energy labels issued under the Government's voluntary Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (EELS). Energy efficiency is graded from 1 to 5. The lower the number, the more energy efficient.

When the test figures were converted into the Energy Consumption Indices, the value of one sample which is rated as Grade 3, was found to actually exceed the upper limit of Grade 3.

The finding has been drawn to the attention of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department which is responsible for the administration of the EELS.

Another major consideration in the choice of air-conditioners is the cooling capacity.

All models were found to over-claim their cooling capacity value, the discrepancies ranging from 2% to 16%. The claimed cooling capacity was between 2.3 and 2.7 kW suitable for cooling a room of 6 to 8 square metres.

Generally speaking, split-type air-conditioners are less noisy and consume less electricity than common window-type air-conditioners; but their prices (the 15 models in the test range from $3,390 to $5,570) and basic installation costs ($1,100 to $2,500) are higher.

Included in the 15 split-type models were 4 compact "window-split" type. Their basic installation cost was found to range from $1,100 to $1,600, only a few hundred dollars cheaper than the traditional split-type air-conditioners.

Installation costs could vary substantially if extra costs are incurred by complicating factors of the installation environment (e.g. the need for extension of refrigerant pipe and drainage pipe, and scaffolding). It is advisable to ask the installer for a quotation after onsite inspection.

Consumers should also take into account the higher maintenance costs for split-type air-conditioners- the annual subscription fees of maintenance schemes for 3 models were found to be around$1,500, nearly one-third of the machine price.

Users are advised to avoid operating split-type air-conditioner for too long in an enclosed room because there is no exhaust/ventilation mechanism in split-type air-conditioners.

Large-scale consumer survey on packaged holiday tours points to need for improvement in service and practice

In one of the biggest surveys of its kind, some 4,000 travellers returning from packaged holiday tours abroad have spoken out on the standard and quality of service of their travel agents.

The survey was conducted by the Consumer Council during the Chinese New Year holiday period at Hong Kong International Airport earlier this year (February 19-28).

The respondents were largely returning from China, Singapore / Malaysia / Thailand, Korea, Europe and Japan, in descending order of frequency.

The survey report covered 4,023 respondents in respect of their experiences with 13 travel agents. Highlights of the findings:

Tour cancellation/alteration

  • An average of 16% of travellers experienced tour cancellation or alteration. Of which 40% were informed 14 days before departure and 50% less than 14 days. In the latter case, travel agents are required to pay a 3% compensation of the tour fare to consumers for any tour cancellations. The Travel Industry Council has recently increased the compensation to 15% of the tour price and not exceeding $1,000 for tour cancellation 7 days before departure.

Additional payments

  • The majority of travel agents (10 out of 13) had asked for additional payments for reasons of (in descending order of frequency) tour alteration, flight unavailability, change in departure schedule, hotel accommodation, itinerary and transportation, etc.
  • An average of 6% of travellers yielded to the tour operators' demands for additional payments, and paid up accordingly.

Optional programmes (excluded from tour price)

  • More than half of the respondents joined such optional programmes arranged by tour operators in which an average of 31% of the activities were of a potentially hazardous nature that included skiing, hot balloon, rafting, water parachute, scuba diving, speed boat and horse riding, etc. In most cases, consumers were advised of the potential hazards of such activities.
  • The expenditure on these optional programmes amounted to an average of 11% of the tour price.

Payment of tips

  • Most travellers (58%) accepted the recommended amount of tips to tour guides. Though over half of them considered the amount to be reasonable, an average of 20% resented the compulsory nature of the payment without regard to the quality of service of the guides.

Top on the list of consumer dissatisfaction were:

  • The practices of travel agents who took booking from consumers in peak seasons regardless of the availability of airline seats and, allegedly, cancelled tours of lower fares and offered higher-priced alternatives to increase profits.
  • The sequence of activities on the itinerary was not strictly adhered to in accordance with the brochures and the facilities of the hotels were not as good as the generally accepted standard by their "star" grading claim.
  • The way in which tips were "recommended" and that children had to pay the same amount as adults. Further, tips were paid on a day-by-day basis even if the tours depart in the evening and return in the morning with 2 days' trips actually missing.
  • Too many optional programmes that were excluded from tour price, were arranged during the tours in some cases the charges to consumers were higher than if consumers joined the activities themselves.

On the whole, the majority of travellers were more satisfied with the arrangements for transportation and the services provided by tour guides than with meals and shopping arrangements.

In view of the findings, the Consumer Council has recommended, the following for the consideration of the trade and the Travel Industry Council:

  • Travel agents should, as far as possible, have confirmed bookings of airline seats and hotels when accepting reservation of packaged tour from consumers. Travel agents should notify customers, as early as possible, if a tour is going to be cancelled.
  • Names of hotels and their alternatives should be clearly stated in the brochures. List out a number of possible hotels instead of using words or statements such as "XX hotels or hotels of the same grade" as in most cases only names of the better quality hotels appear on the brochures.
  • According to tour guides, the collection of tips is a source of their basic income. In other words, travel agents are passing on such operating overheads to consumers. However such arrangements have led to conflict and discontent between tour guides and consumers. The Council is of the view that payment of tips should not be compulsory. Tipping to tour guides should be an incentive to better services and the amount paid to tour guides should be voluntary and decided by consumers. Children should be excluded for such payment.
  • The number of optional programmes and its estimated expenditures should be clearly stated in the brochures or include some of the costs of these programmes into the tour price to present a true cost of the tour to consumers.