65% Ice-cream Samples Were "High-sugar" Food Bacterial Count of 2 Non-prepackaged Samples Exceeded Threshold

15 June 2020
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Ice-cream is everyone’s all-year favourite dessert. But what is more chilling than indulging oneself in a cup of ice-cream in the hot summer? From the Consumer Council’s test on 29 prepackaged and non-prepackaged ice-creams and frozen confections, 2 non-prepackaged samples were found to contain total bacterial count and coliform count respectively that exceeded the legal limit. Although it may not cause immediate food poisoning, the hygiene condition in those samples were below standard. Sorbic acid – a preservative not permissible to be added into dairy- or fat-based desserts, was found in 2 other non-prepackaged frozen confection samples (regarded as compound food). The Council is highly concerned with the safety and hygiene condition of ice-creams and frozen confections, and urged manufacturers to take quality control measures and adhere to hygiene standards strictly in all steps in the production process, i.e. from production to point of sales, and reduce chances of product contamination.

Test results also showed that 65% of the samples were "high-sugar" foods and 1 sample was “high-fat” food. All samples contained saturated fat that could increase “bad cholesterol” content in the blood. The Council reminds consumers to watch out for the sugar and fat content in these delicious and tempting desserts and avoid overeating and lead to obesity, which will pose risks to acute disease like diabetes and heart problems.

The test on 29 pre-packaged and non-pre-packaged ice-cream and frozen confection samples covered 6 vanilla flavour, 11 chocolate flavour, 3 strawberry flavour, 2 cookies and cream flavour, 5 green tea/Matcha flavour, and 2 milk flavour. They were tested in areas of safety, microbiology content, and nutrient content.

Preservatives and microbiology contents to be verified and improved

The “Preservatives in Foods Regulations” states that it is not permissible to add sorbic acid, a preservative, into any dairy- and fat-based desserts, but for those frozen confections added with other ingredients are regarded as compound food, that should evaluate in reference to the regulations on the use of preservatives in individual ingredients before concluding whether the product complies with the regulations. In the test, 2 non-prepackaged frozen confections were found to contain 57 and 123mg of sorbic acid per kilogram respectively. Sorbic acid is of low toxicity but because of other ingredients such as chocolate syrup, glutinous rice balls, red beans puree, etc. were added to the frozen confections, the source of the sorbic acid could not be determined. The Council has relayed the information to the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) for follow-up.

The hygiene condition of an ice-cream can be judged from its total bacterial count and coliform count. The "Frozen Confections Regulation" stipulates that the total bacterial count and coliform count must not exceed 50,000 bacteria count and 100 coliform count per gram respectively. The hygiene condition in 2 non-prepackaged samples out of the 29 samples had unsatisfactorily exceeded the permissible limits with 1 sample found to contain 58,000 bacteria per gram, while the other sample contained 280 coliforms per gram.

Ice-creams and frozen confections lovers beware of excessive sugar or fat intake

The Council reminds that according to the “Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations”, the sugar content in an ice-cream should not be less than 10%. Thus, ice-cream inevitably has high sugar content and consumers should eat ice-cream in moderation. They should also pay attention to the nutrition label and serving size to minimize risks in tooth decay and obesity, and the latter could have a higher chance in getting acute disease like diabetes and heart problems.

Sugars contents in the 29 samples tested ranged from 12.0 to 22.7g/100g. 65% (19 samples) of them have reached the reference level of "high-sugar" food of the Centre for Food Safety (more than 15g of sugar per 100g). According to the WHO's recommendation, an adult weighing 60kg (2,000 kilocalories intake per day) should consume less than 50g of free sugar per day. If a person consumes the whole cup of ice-cream (81g) that contains the highest sugars content, he/she would have taken in 18.3g of sugar, accounting for more than 35% of the recommended daily sugar intake. For a 4-year-old girl who weighs 17kg (1,250 kilocalories intake per day), she should consume less than 31g of free sugar per day. Thus, eating that same ice-cream means about 60% of the recommended daily sugar intake.

On the other hand, the “Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations” stipulate that ice cream should not contain less than 7.5% of sucrose, in other words, a product cannot be named “ice-cream” if it contains less than 7.5% of sucrose. The Council’s tests found that 2 prepackaged “ice-cream” samples contained sucrose content of 6.1g and 7.4g/100g respectively, and thus were below standard. 2 other non-prepackaged samples were found the same. Although reducing sugar intake is beneficial to health, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring product formulas or product names accurately reflect the actual condition of the products and fulfill the related quality standards, to protect consumers' right to know.

Fat can help to provide structure in ice-cream and enhance the creamy flavor in it. But excessive intake of total fat may increase risks of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other diseases. The 29 samples were found to contain a range of 4.3 to 21.4g of total fat per 100g. The sample with the highest total fat content has reached the reference level of "high fat" food of the Centre for Food Safety (more than 20g of total fat per 100g). Taking an adult of a daily intake of 2,000 kilocalories of energy as an example, he/she would have taken in 15.2g of total fat, i.e. 20% of the WHO recommended daily intake of 66g of total fat, if he/she consumes 1 serving portion (71g) of the highest total fat sample. For a 4-year-old girl whose calories intake should be 1,250 kilocalories per day, eating the same sample meant 35% of the recommended daily fat intake. Parents should note the amount of ice-cream that their children intake.

In addition, saturated fat was found in all samples, ranging from 1.1 to 14.6g/100g. Although the average saturated fat content in non-prepackaged samples was lower than that in the prepackaged samples, the average consumption portion for prepackaged samples were higher than non-prepackaged ones. Saturated fat would increase the "bad cholesterol" content in the blood and increase risks of coronary heart disease. Consumers should reduce the intake where possible.

Carefully select ingredients when DIY

Families like to create their own recipes of home-made ice-cream and ice-cream machine has become a popular household appliance in recent years. Besides the fun of making a dessert, the use of natural ingredients also makes people feel healthier. Dairy products and eggs are the main ingredients for ice-cream. However, if not properly processed, they may cause food-borne diseases. Consumers should handle and select ingredients carefully, such as to use pasteurized dairy products and store them at the right temperature; or to replace raw eggs with dry egg powder, custard powder or ice-cream premix powder in order to reduce the risks of salmonellosis or listeriosis.

Consumers can note the following tips when purchasing or consuming ice-cream:

  • Check whether the product packaging is intact, whether there is discoloration, odor or melting, also pay attention to the best-before date and expiry date;
  • If you purchase pre-packaged frozen confection or ice-cream products and do not consume them immediately, store them in a freezer at -18°C or below to avoid deterioration;
  • Non-prepackaged frozen confections or ice-cream products should be consumed immediately and should not be stored at room temperature;
  • Eat in moderation and maintain a balanced and diversified diet. Avoid excessive intake of total fat, saturated fat and free sugar.

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