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All 30 Chinese Sausage Samples High in Fat, Sugar or Sodium 6 Samples Detected with Non-permitted Colouring Matters 2 Contained Plasticisers

  • 2023.12.14

Chinese sausage is an essential ingredient in many people’s favourite autumn and winter dishes such as clay pot rice with preserved meat, glutinous rice, and turnip cake. Pork is the main ingredient of Chinese sausages, and seasonings such as salt and sugar are added to make the sausages more delectable, but at the same time contribute to hidden health pitfalls such as high fat, high sugar and high sodium content. The Consumer Council tested 30 samples of prepackaged and non-prepackaged Chinese sausages and found all samples to be high in sodium, over 80% samples high in sugar. Apart from 1 sample, the rest were all high in fat, including 8 samples described as “lean” (瘦 in Chinese), thus consumers should enjoy the delicacy in moderation. In addition, 6 non-prepackaged samples were detected with colouring matters banned for food use in Hong Kong and Europe, while 2 prepackaged samples were found to contain plasticisers that exceeded the Centre for Food Safety’s (CFS) action level. The test also revealed significant discrepancy between the labelled nutrient content and actual detected levels in 6 samples, 4 of which had detected levels of sugar, fat or sodium that exceeded the tolerance limits set by the CFS, while the detected levels of sugar and sodium in some samples were over 70% higher than labelled. Moreover, some prepackaged samples did not even have nutrition labels and a list of ingredients at all, making it impossible for consumers to obtain relevant information. The Council urges food manufacturers to make improvements promptly.

The Council purchased 30 samples of Chinese sausages from various retail outlets, including 20 which claimed to be made in Hong Kong or the Mainland, while some claimed to be imported from Singapore and Canada. Among them, 16 samples were prepackaged, with average prices ranging from $11.0 to $39.7 per 100g, a difference of about 2.6 times. As for the 14 non-prepackaged samples, prices were all denoted in catties or pounds, average price per 100g after conversion ranged from $12.9 to $37.0, with a difference of around 1.9 times. Test items included nutrient content, additives (colouring matters, preservatives) and contaminants (plasticisers, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)), as well as the accuracy of nutrition labels.

All but 1 Were High in Fat, Including 8 Marked as “Lean”

Fat provides energy for the body and performs many important bodily functions. However, excessive intake of fat may increase the risks of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and even certain cancers. According to the CFS, food containing over 20g of total fat per 100g is classified as “high fat” food. Based on per 100g sample, 29 Chinese sausage samples were “high in fat” with total fat content between 21.7g to 47.0g, while the total fat content (19.4g) of the only non-high-fat sample was also close to the definition of “high fat”. According to recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), for an adult with a daily energy intake of 2,000kcal, the upper limit of total fat intake for each of the 3 meals consumed per day should be about 22.2g. Consuming 1 link of the sample with the highest total fat content (47.0g per 100g) would result in an intake of 23.5g of fat, which exceeds the limit per meal.

“Lean” claims are naturally enticing for consumers who wish to select relatively healthy Chinese sausages. However, 1 prepackaged and 7 non-prepackaged samples with the word “lean” (瘦 in Chinese) on the product description were in fact high in fat. Based on per 100g sample, the total fat content of these 8 samples ranged from 21.7g to 35.9g, with an average content of 28.5g, which was slightly lower than that of the remaining 22 samples (with an average of 33.0g), but still reached high-fat levels. 1 sample labelled as “extra lean” (加瘦 in Chinese) in fact containing 35.9g of total fat. Consumers may not be able to discern and choose products with lower fat content simply by relying on product claims or descriptions on shelves.

All Samples High in Sodium and Over 80% High in Sugar

It is a known fact that excessive sodium intake could increase the risk of hypertension, strokes, and cardiovascular diseases. A large amount of salt is added in the process of making Chinese sausages for both flavour and preservation. All samples were classified as “high sodium” food, with sodium content ranging from 1,258.5mg to 1,971.6mg per 100g, 1 to 2.3 times higher than the “high sodium” food benchmark (600mg sodium per 100g) set by the CFS. The WHO recommends that adults should consume less than 2,000mg of sodium per day, i.e. 667mg per meal. Based on the sample with the highest sodium content, consuming 1 link would result in an intake of 1,029.2mg of sodium, which is nearly 55% higher than the limit per meal and over half the recommended daily sodium intake.

What is less known is that sugar is also added for flavour in the production of Chinese sausages. According to the CFS, food containing over 15g sugar per 100g can be regarded as “high sugar”, and over 80% of the 30 samples (25) were found to be “high sugar”, with the highest being 25.9g of sugar per 100g. With reference to WHO’s recommendations, an adult with a daily energy intake of 2,000kcal should consume less than 50g of free sugars per day, i.e. a maximum intake of about 16.7g per meal. However, eating 1 link of the sample with the highest sugar content would result in an intake of 14.2g of sugar, which is 85% of the maximum intake limit of sugar per meal. Consumers should not consume too much to avoid obesity and other diseases.

Non-permitted Colouring Matters Detected in 6 Samples

Plasticisers Found in 2 Prepackaged Samples        

Chinese sausages are generally reddish in colour. In the test, 6 non-prepackaged samples were detected with Red 2G (1 sample) and Rhodamine B (5 samples), colouring matters not permitted for use in food in Hong Kong. Red 2G is light red, which gives food a cherry to blood red hue, and can produce the metabolite aniline. As early as 2007, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) pointed out that according to animal experiment data, aniline is genotoxic and carcinogenicity in humans cannot be ruled out, thus banning the use of aniline in food in the same year. In Hong Kong, the use of Red 2G in food has also been banned since late 2008, while Rhodamine B, which is bright red in colour, has also been banned in foods in Hong Kong.

As plasticisers are soluble in oily substances, if fat-rich Chinese sausages come into contact with plastic materials during production and processing, it may result in migration of plasticisers. Test results showed that the plasticiser dibutyl phthalate (DBP) was detected in 2 prepackaged samples at levels of 0.42mg/kg and 0.66 mg/kg respectively, both higher than the CFS action level (0.3mg/kg). Taking the sample with a higher level as the basis for calculation, the DBP intake per sausage link was 0.033mg, and an adult weighing 60kg would need to consume 18.2 links per day to exceed the daily intake limit (0.6mg) set by the EFSA, so there should not be high health risks with normal consumption.

PAHs are formed during heating, heat assisted drying, smoking or via environmental contamination of food. Some PAHs may be carcinogenic. 2 non-prepackaged samples were detected with PAHs, which did not exceed the limit of the EU regulation for smoked meat. 23 samples were found to contain the heavy metal lead, and 1 sample was detected with arsenic, neither of which exceeded the respective limits prescribed in the National Food Safety Standard of China – Maximum Levels of Contaminants in Food.

Discrepancies Between Nutrition Labels and Actual Sugar, Fat or Sodium Content of 4 Samples Exceeded Tolerance Limit

Nutrition labelling of food enables consumers to know the nutrient content of the product. However, tests revealed that the actual nutrient content of some samples of prepackaged Chinese sausages differed considerably from their labelled values. If the detected contents of sugar, total fat or sodium is higher than the labelled values by more than 20%, it will exceed the tolerance limit of the CFS Technical Guidance Notes on Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claims. The sugar content of 2 samples was found to be over 20% higher than labelled, exceeding the tolerance limit, 1 of which even had a detected sugar content 81% higher than the declared value. The sodium content of 2 samples was found to be over 20% higher than labelled, with 1 being 73.6% higher. Furthermore, the detected total fat and saturated fat contents of the sample with the highest total fat content were actually 47.8% and 40.7% higher than their labelled values respectively. On the other hand, 2 samples were found to contain much less fat than labelled, with the total fat content 50.9% and 49.3% lower than labelled, and the saturated fat content 53.2% and 45.4% lower than labelled values respectively. Given that significant discrepancies between labelled values and the detected content could undermine consumers’ right to accurate information and may lead to mistaken choices, food manufacturers should firmly address the issue.

In addition, 2 prepackaged samples had no nutrition labels on the packaging, 1 prepackaged sample did not list out the contents of sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats on its nutrition label, while 1 sample did not have an ingredient list and nutrition label. The Council has forwarded the information to the CFS for follow-up.

Although Chinese sausages are tasty, consumers should pay attention to the following tips when consuming them:

  • Pay attention to maintaining balanced nutritional intake and do not consume too much Chinese sausage as their fat, sodium, and sugar contents are generally high;
  • Chinese sausages contain nitrate/nitrite and are not suitable for young children as they are more susceptible to nitrite’s effect on health, thus children should refrain from consuming them in large quantities;
  • Chinese sausages should be stored in the refrigerator and the parts in contact with the sausage twine should be removed before cooking.


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