Sushi threat
New license imposed to
regulate Japanese food

By Joanna Lam

With a package of sushi just bought from a su- shi buffet shop, Mr. Raymond Choi, an 18-year-old student, regards Japanese snack as his favourite.

Like comics, cartoons, and other Japanese-oriented products, sushi has its own fans among youngsters and children in Hong Kong.

However, behind the appealing taste and appearance of sushi, a potential health treat has been identified.

A recent survey endorsed by the Health Department has revealed that more than 405 sushi samples and 20 percent of the sashimi samples did not meet the acceptable minimal bacteria levels.

From the Choice magazine, published by Consumer Council in mid-September, one of the sushi samples even had a higher-than-acceptable staphylococcus aureus level. Staphylococcus aureus can make people feel quite sick.

Inappropriate handling methods, such as storage without refrigeration, is usually the main cause of sushi-contamination.

At present, only a general food licence is required to open a sushi shop.

Mr. Kin Kei Lai, staff officer of Hygiene Section in the Regional Services Department, said, “The Licensing Sections in both Regional and Urban Services Departments are responsible for checking all the hygienic facilities in restaurants and food shops.

“A license will be granted to those with sufficient and appropriate facilities.”

Special guidelines are given to Japanese restaurants and sushi shops by Urban Services Department.

However, no punishment is imposed, even if the shop owners ignore the guidelines.

One small food stall close to Tsuen Wan Terminal has the sushi placed near cooked food and not stored in a refrigerator.

A salesperson said, “There’s no need to store them in refrigerator because they are not raw food. People will buy them when they are in hurry.”

However, according to Mr. Lai, owners selling sushi under questionable conditions will not be charged unless they can prove that bacteria in the food, such as cholera, have caused people to get very sick.

Admitting the present means of inspection and guidelines for sushi-selling are not effective enough, Mr. Lai regarded the forthcoming licensing system as an improvement of the situation.

All current sashimi and sushi shops will have to apply for a special license before February 1997.

Mr. Lai predicted there will be about 130 shops and restaurants applying for this license.

With regard to the cost of license, Mr. Lai revealed that only some guidelines, but no fees will be added to those who already have licences.

He said, “Shops like supermarkets which do not have a licence will need to apply for permission, which costs several hundred dollars.”

The sushi shop owners think that the new license system will not affect their business.

A salesperson at a sushi buffet said, “Our business won’t be affected because we purchase sushi from a food factory instead of producing them in this shop.”

Besides, the purchasers welcomed the new system.

One customer said, “That’s good to have a better licensing system, although the result may not be the same as expected.”

November 1996

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