Skip to main content
  • 1999.07.15

With only few exceptions, preservatives in meat balls (fish, beef and cuttlefish) are generally in compliance with the law

Fish balls, beef balls, cuttlefish balls...these are undisputably the all-time favourite snack and food dish of both the young and the old.

But have you ever given any thought to the types and levels of preservatives that they may contain? That the consumption of a prohibited or an overdose of preservative could be injurious to your health.

To ascertain if they are in compliance with the law(the Preservatives in Food Regulations), the Consumer Council has conducted a test on 90 batches of meat ball samples comprising fish balls (36), beef balls (35), cuttlefish balls(11) and fish rolls (8).

The samples were drawn from a diversity of retail outlets that included supermarkets, markets, Chinese noodle shops and cooked food stalls.

With a few exceptions (4% of the samples), the findings of the test are generally reassuring.

The test revealed that of the 90 batches of samples, one fish ball and one beef ball samples have been found to contain a non-permitted additive Salicyclic Acid (reportedly to enhance the bouncy texture of the foods), with levels of 57 ppm and 209 ppm respectively.

The fish ball samples in question were sourced from a ready-to-eat meatball stall while the beef ball samples from a market.

Salicyclic Acid is "unsuitable as a food additive," according to the World Health Organisation. Initial symptoms of Salicyclic Acid overdose include nausea, vomiting, gastric irritation, sweating, fever, short breath or tinnitus. Long-term overdose may even cause damages to the liver or kidney.

The test also detected the presence of Benzoic Acid,in excess of the Regulations, in one beef ball and one cuttlefish ball samples. The samples, in these cases, were sourced from two different Chinese noodle shops.

The beef ball samples were found to contain an excessive quantity of Benzoic Acid of 859 ppm, though a very small amount of Benzoic Acidin beef balls is permitted because it is likely that the preservative is originated from the soy sauce added to them.

In the case of the cuttlefish ball samples, they were found to contain 1,189 ppm Benzoic in excess of the upper legal limit of 1,000ppm.

While Benzoic Acid is classified as "generally recognized as safe" in the US, a study has indicated that some patients suffering from asthma, rhinitis or urticaria experience exacerbation of symptoms after ingesting food or beverages containing Benzoic Acid.

The WHO Acceptable Daily Intake of Benzoic Acid is300 mg. Assuming a 60 kg body weight adult who does not consume Benzoic Acid from anyother sources and on the basis of the samples with the highest Benzoic Acid content, he orshe will have to consume 252 g (or 25 pieces) of cuttlefish balls or 349 g (or 35 pieces)of beef balls to exceed the Acceptable Daily Intake.

All samples were, on the other hand, given a cleanbill of health in respect of Sorbic Acid.

Meatball suppliers are urged to strictly observe the regulations on preservatives ensuring that only permitted preservatives at permitted levels are added to their products.

Consumers who consume such foodstuffs regularly, are advised to consult the findings of the test, in this July issue of CHOICE, to enhance their awareness and understanding of the problem.

The Consumer Council has notified both the Department of Health and the Urban and Regional Services Departments of the test findings.

Choosing sunscreen products with the right degree of UVA & UVB protection to your skin

Is sunbathing your favourite pastime? Or is a suntan skin complexion not exactly your idea of beauty?

One way or the other, if you are likely to be outdoors a good deal in the hot sunny months of summer, you may need to turn to sunscreen products for protection.

Essentially, sunscreen products should be able to protect you against harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) rays of UVA and UVB

With excessive UVA exposure, it could causepremature aging of the skin (wrinkling and sagging skin); whereas excessive UVB rays couldresult in sunburn. In both cases, they increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

A total of 42 sunscreen products - 30 sunscreenlotions and 12 face creams/moisturizers with added sunscreening agents - were put toa test to evaluate their ability in UV absorption.

The results are revealing to both users of sunworshippers or otherwise:

  • Over 80% (25) of the sunscreen lotion samples were able to screen out 90% or more (over 99% in 10 samples) UVA and UVB rays. While the remainders could offer nearly 90% or above against UVB, they fared less in UVA, ranging from 54% to 88%.
  • Over 90% (11) of the face cream/moisturizer samples were effective in screening out 90% or more UVA and UVB rays. It shows that these products can protect the face from harmful UV rays and suntan.
  • Prices are not reliable indication of the ability of sunscreen products to block out UV rays. Higher priced products are not necessarily better than those at the lower end of the price scale. In the test, prices varied from $3.3 to $88.6 per 10 g or ml.
  • Generally speaking, products from cosmetic companies are more expensive than those from chemical pharmaceutical manufacturers. Sunscreen products such as face creams/moisturizers, that claim to contain beautifying and nourishing ingredients, will cost more than sunscreen lotions.

Consumers are advised to look for sunscreen products with proper UVA and UVB protection.

Consumers will find on the labels of these products the sign SPF (Sun Protection Factor) which is a common indicator of UVB absorption provided by manufacturers. Generally, the higher the SPF, the more sunscreening agents the product contains; and depending on the individual skin, the longer it will take to get atan.

For people with sensitive skin, they should check the ingredients that may cause allergic reaction, and take note of the SPF as the higher the SPF with more sun screening agents, the higher the chance of skin irritation.

If the product is to be used in water sports, check its water resistance quality.

Consumers should avoid storing sunscreen products under the sun or near heat sources as heat may decrease the ability of the products to block out UV rays.

School textbook prices up by 2.5%, the lowest in 19 years

The annual rise in school textbook prices has been reduced considerably this year.

According to the Consumer Council's annual survey, prices of both primary and secondary school textbooks have risen by 2.5%.

Compared with last year's increase of 8.8% for primary and 7.6% for secondary textbooks, the extent of the latest increase is mild. In fact, it is the lowest in 19 years since 1980.

Nevertheless, this year's price increase is set against a period of declining inflation rate. The average inflation rate for the past 12 months (June 98 - May 99), based on the Composite Consumer Price Index was, -0.3%.

The Council's survey covered a total of some 1,000titles of primary and secondary textbooks, of which 17.1% primary and 26.6% secondary textbooks remained the same price as last year's.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Council has written to the booksellers' association on the recent announcement by 22 textbook retailers offering 10% discount in the sale of secondary textbooks.

While the Council welcomes the price discount, it has drawn the attention of both associations to the Statement on Competition Policy issued by the Government in May 1998.

Amongst others, practices such as "settingretail price minimums for products or services where there are no ready substitutes"and "price-fixing intended to distort the normal operation of the market" were identified in the Statement as conduct that could impair market efficiency and should therefore be subject to scrutiny.

Accordingly, the Council has asked the association to

  • provide more details on the alleged price agreement;
  • explain why booksellers are choosing not to rely on open market principles (which implies individual competition rather than uniform practice); and
  • illustrate how Hong Kong consumers are better off as a result of the arrangement.

The matter has also been forwarded to the Competition Policy Advisory Group (COMPAG) for its attention.

Buyers of SIM cards unbundled from sales packages may expose to hidden risks

Consumers are cautioned about the purchase of mobile phone SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards at very low price - some as low as $18 per 100 minutes of call per month.

It could land you in trouble with the law, give rise to abuse of personal data or even financial loss.

Such SIM cards come to exist as mobile phone network operators vie for business with greatly attractive packages that offer mobile phone handsets at zero cost to prospective subscribers of their network service.

Some of their agents - distributors, retailers or intermediaries - however have found it more profitable to unbundle the package into two parts: sell the handsets to China or other jurisdictions and the SIM cards in the local market.

In this issue of 'CHOICE', consumers are warned of the risks that they may expose themselves to :

  • In buying such cards, they become automatically the registered owners of the handsets. But if the "real" owners use the handsets to commit crimes or other illegal dealings, the police may come investigating the registered owners.
  • Since some cards are sold by street vendors without fixed locations, it is doubtful whether they can keep their customers' personal information in strict confidence. Imagine the consequences of your personal information falling into the hands of bad elements.
  • As business is transacted sometimes in the crowded streets of Mongkok, Tsuen Wan and Shamshuipo, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the customers to study carefully the terms and conditions of the use of the SIM cards.
  • In some instances, consumers may be required to pay the handset fee if the contract stipulates that "Customer is required to pay the handset fee if he/she terminates the services within one year", or similar.
  • Consumers are unable to identify if the street-sellers are genuine agents or not of the network operators. They will have difficulty in seeking redress if problems exist afterwards.
  • Information provided by sellers is insufficient. The Council staff have come across a case in that the seller did not even sign the contract. Some sellers were suspected of misleading consumers that the SIM card is not one unbundled from a sales package by not filling the "handset model/serial number" item in the contract.

Consumers should be aware of such risks before they make a decision to purchase such SIM cards, and read the contract carefully.

GSM and dual band handsets update report

Included in this (273) issue of CHOICE is a comprehensive test report on 6 additional models of mobile handsets comprising 4 GSM single band models and 2 dual band models. The test covers all important aspects such as intelligibility sensitivity, battery performance (standby time and usable time), tumble evaluation and convenience.

The test results are presented together with the results of a previous test on 15 other models (published in the January 99 issue of CHOICE), in a comparative table for easy comparison. Basically, handsets differ quite a lot in their design and features. Consumers can choose according to their own requirements.

Millenium Bug

With only 169 days before the year 2000, consumers are advised to check out their household appliances - video cassette recorders, fax machines, camcorders and cameras, and personal computers - to ascertain if they areY2K compliant.

The advice, together with a simple do-it-yourself check, is contained in this issue of CHOICE as part of a series on the Y2K problem to be published until the end of this year.

When purchasing new appliances, consumers are also reminded to confirm if the products are fully Y2K compliant.