CHOICE # 245

14 March 1997
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The Consumer Council today issued a severe warning to consumers on a dangerous piece of product marketed as "energy saving" wire net for gas burner.

In a test, it was found that the use of the wire net when placed under the stove pan support spikes in accordance with its usage instruction, can increase the concentration of the highly lethal carbon monoxide by 39 folds!

This is 2 times in excess of the safety level laid down in the British Standard for gas burning appliances.

Users are advised to immediately stop using the wire net to avoid potential tragedy.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be quick and deadly, depending on the ventilation of the kitchen - whether windows and doors are open, whether exhaust fan or range hood are in operation, the size of the kitchen, etc.

The product, priced at $25 to $40, was brought to the notice of the Consumer Council following consumer enquiries on its effectiveness as an "energy saving" device.

The wire net has made claims that it saves energy up to 38%; reduces the possibility of gas poisoning; and increases the temperature from the original 6600 - 8000C to 1,0000 -1,2000C.

A test was carried out by the Hong Kong and China Gas Co. Ltd. under observation of the Gas Standards Office of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

The results were shocking - in serious contradiction of the product claims. It was found that the use of such wire net would actually :

  • lower the thermal efficiency by 1% (Lo-flame) and 3% (Hi-flame);
  • increase the carbon monoxide concentration by 39 folds or 2 times higher than the safety standard; and
  • significantly increase the surface temperature of the gas burner indicating poor heat transfer as heat is wasted in heating up the appliance itself. This overheating will, in turn, deteriorate the thermocouple lead and the drip pan. Consumers will have to replace these parts at their own costs.

In view of the grave hazards, the Consumer Council has notified the Customs and Excise Department's Trading Standards Investigation Bureau of the test results for possible action under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance.

Consumers should cease using the product immediately. Consumers are advised to always consult the appliance agent whenever they want to buy an accessory for gas appliance.

Laundry detergents, like other daily necessities, are a constant drain on a household budget.

So it pays to search for the ideal detergent that gives your laundry a clean wash at a minimum of cost. For the savings could be potentially substantial in the long run.

But that's probably easier said than done. According to a Consumer Council test on 21powder laundry detergents, the detergents that gave the best performance score were also the highest cost per wash.

The best performers (2 brands) scored 90% in their soil removal ability at a price per wash of $2.40 and $3.30 respectively. This was carried out at ambient water temperature 250C.

However, if you are price conscious and are prepared to settle for a detergent with a less than perfect performance, there is a much wider choice available.

The test gave 16 of the 21 powder detergent samples a performance score that ranged from 70% to 85% at 250C at a correspondingly lower price per wash ranging from only 37cents to $1.61.

A more detailed breakdown indicated that detergents with a performance score of 80% or more cost from 71 cents to $1.61 per wash; while detergents with 70% or more performance from 37 cents to $1.00.

The remainder 3 detergents (including one model of laundry washing balls) were found to have a performance score of less than 70% - from 57% to 63% at 25?C. This is close to the result (54%) obtained from simply washing your laundry with water without any detergent.

The test report - published in the March (245) issue of the Consumer Council's monthly magazine 'CHOICE' - noted that a number of factors could affect the concentration of the detergent and hence its performance. These factors include the type of washing machine used, the water level for the amount of laundry you want to wash, and the dosage of detergent.

The test was carried out in accordance with the detergent dosage recommended by the manufacturer. The Council however pointed out that the instructions for use of some detergents were not sufficiently comprehensive as the recommended dosage, e.g. "half cup, normal wash", does not clearly specify the type of washing machines to be used, the applicable water consumption or wash load.

Consumers are urged to consult the test report and check the ranking of the detergents in terms of washing performance.

If you want a cleaner wash, try a detergent with a better performance score. If you're happy with the performance you are now getting but want a cheaper detergent, choose a brand with a similar score but a lower cost per wash.

Besides their general soil removal ability the samples were examined for their phosphorous content. Phosphate is often added as the principal builder in a detergent to improve its washing performance.

Phosphate, however, is deemed environmentally undesirable. Phosphate is a nutrient for algae which can build up, in conditions such as warmer weather, to levels which may lead to a deterioration in water quality.

13 of the samples were found to have total phosphorous in excess of 5% with the highest as much as 14.25%. The remainders were below 5% with some as low as 0.0015% and 0.0018% which are virtually phosphate-free.

No doubt you have watched many a fire disaster on your TV screen. But has it ever occurred to you that your TV set may suddenly become ablaze.

At least 4 fire accidents allegedly involving TV sets were reported in the local newspapers last year.

Reported in this issue of 'CHOICE' is a study by the Japan Consumer Information Centre (JCIC) on this matter of rising concern.

According to the study, the JCIC collected, between 1975 and 1994, information on a total of 1,445 reports of TV sets becoming afire or billowing smoke. Of these cases, 54 actually led to fire disasters.

An analysis of these reports revealed that 60% of the TV sets in question were more than 5 years old.

Further, the accidents were not without any signs of fore-warning. They usually began with some kind of malfunctioning of the sets such as the sound going dead or the pictures disturbed. Then some weird sound followed by smoke or fire.

In serious cases, the intense heat from the fire caused the cathode ray tube to erupt in explosion.

The Tokyo Fire Defence Agency has identified, between 1982 and 1991, 118 accidents caused by blazing TV sets, of which 62 were due to the inferior construction of the appliances and 30 to the misuse of the sets.

Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry has attributed the cause for 46%of the cases to fly back transformer and other high voltage units in a TV set.

Due to the high voltage required for the operation of the cathode ray tube, dust and moisture accumulate on these components thus increasing the probability of a flash over (electric spark) that results in smoke or fire.

Another major cause attributed for 24% of the cases stems from poor electrical connection or contact and in particular the aging of the soldering joint resulting in arcing or flash over.

As some of the insulation is inflammable, it is ignited by the arcing or flash over.

Between 1985 and 1993, 7 TV manufacturers had recalled their products involving some900,000 TV sets in Japan for repair and inspection owing to fire hazards or other problems.

The Consumer Council has been reassured by their local agents that the models in question were never marketed in Hong Kong.

Consumers are advised to hire qualified electrician or the agent for regular maintenance of their TV sets. For old sets, it is advisable to switch off the set completely when not in use instead of leaving it in a standby mode as the standby power consumption is relatively high and therefore may pose a higher risk. And before leaving home for long trip, be sure to always unplug the set.

Compact cameras are probably here to stay for a long time to come. They are ideal for fuss-free snaps and are generally small, light, and instantly ready for action.

In this 245 issue of 'CHOICE' is reported 22 new models of compact cameras with traditional 35mm format.

To help consumers make the right choice, the report included different types – fixed focus, autofocus with single local length, and autofocus with zoom capability – consumers can buy, ranging in price from $500 to $9,600.

The test compared them for their exposure accuracy, focus accuracy, close-up ability, overall picture quality, versatility and ease of use.

The findings are an eye-opener to their uses and potential buyers. 6 models were recommended in the buying guide.

Generally speaking, these recommended models gave good snaps and are easy to use. They are also good value compared with the rest.

If you are confused by the array in terminology currently in use to indicate the durability of prepackaged food, your ordeal may soon be over.

For the law has stepped in to tidy up the situation. Gone will be the variations in date labelling such as "Consume By", "Use By", "Sell By", "Sell Before", "Best Before".

Instead, only the "Use By" and "Best Before" dates will be retained under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) Regulation beginning April 1.

It will be an offence in law to sell or display food products any otherwise without the appropriate durability indication.

The "Use By" date will be used specifically for highly perishable prepackaged food such as egg, cheese, milk and chilled meat while the "Best Before" date is for items such as confectionery, bread, rice and noodles that have a durability of over 18months.

The law also makes it an offence for traders to sell or display prepackaged food products beyond the "Use By" date durability indication. While it is not illegal to sell food after the "Best Before" date, traders are liable to face charges once the food is proven to have contravened other parts of the food law, for example, the food is harmful to health.

So, rest assured that your shopping blues, as far as date labelling is concerned, maysoon be a thing of the past after the start of next month.

The new regulation, amongst other things, will also establish standard for skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, and require food with special emphasis on its ingredient to declare the actual amount or the percentage by weight of that particular ingredient.

Other highlights in this March issue of 'CHOICE' :

  • Female Condom
    • The report serves to explain what a female condom is, why it can help prevent HIV and STD infection, how it should be used and discuss the findings of the Family Planning Association's user trial on this product. It is stressed that the female condom has a definite role to play in the protection against sexually transmitted diseases. But for more widespread use of the female condom, its design needs to be improved and its price lowered.
  • Chinese Medicated Balm
    • Over 170,000 bottles of Chinese imported "Wood Lock Medicated Balm" were voluntarily recalled in the US. The recall was conducted to prevent the possibility of poisoning to young children who might accidentally ingest the methyl salicylate contained in the product. The concern arose because the product is not equipped with child resistant packaging as required by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Steps have been taken in Hong Kong to ensure that such products are labelled with a warning that they are strictly for external use only.

Consumers are advised to always carefully study all items listed on a bill before they simply pay for the total sum.

The Consumer Council noted that a telephone company had included charges for a new caller display service in the total amount due.

Customers are deemed to have given their consent if they settle their monthly bills accordingly. They can choose to discontinue the service by deducting the fee from the total amount due.

Consumers who might have unwittingly paid the fee without knowing it, can now choose to discontinue the service by informing the company on a special hotline. But they must do so before March 31.

The service will then be cancelled and payment charges for the previous months will be credited to the customers in the next bill.

Such practice has been found in maintenance services for fuel supply, mobile phone services as well as certain offers of credit card service.

The Consumer Council has found such type of 'opt-out' payment arrangement unfair to consumers who are deemed to have accepted the service without their express prior consent. Consumers should stay alert and read the terms and conditions listed on the bill.

Consumer organisations the world over will celebrate the World Consumer's Right Day tomorrow (15 March) the theme of which is 'Sustainable Consumption'.

The Consumer Council is an active supporter of sustainable consumption, a factor always taken in consideration in all its test and research.

A 'Use Less Plastic Bags' Campaign has been launched by the Consumer Council in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Department, Retail Management Association, the two municipal councils, Housing Authority and Housing Society, in retail outlets and wet markets. 30% of market goers have switched to use shopping bags instead of plastic bags in the campaign last year.