Hong Kong authorities have abruptly halted the sale of six flavours of French-imported ice cream from confectioner Godiva and warned against consumption of the products after discovering they contained a banned substance.
The Centre for Food Safety revealed on Thursday (Dec 9) it was informed the ice cream contained ethylene oxide, a pesticide used as a food preservative but banned by the European Union for that purpose.
“The trade should stop using or selling the affected batches of the products immediately if they possess them,” the centre said, adding Godiva had initiated a recall of the products and an investigation was ongoing.
The warning was issued by the rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) of the European Commission.
“Upon learning of the incident, the Centre for Food Safety immediately contacted the local importer concerned for follow-up,” a centre spokesman said.
“Preliminary investigation found that the above-mentioned importer had imported into Hong Kong the affected batches of the products concerned.”
Six flavours from Godiva Chocolatier (Asia) Limited sold in 100 millilitre cups were found to contain the substance in Hong Kong.
The products are: Chocolate Cheesecake Flavoured Ice Cream, Milk Chocolate Frozen Confection with Dark Chocolate, Belgian Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, Vanilla Flavoured Cocoa Infused Ice Cream, Caramel Coffee Frozen Confection with Dark Chocolate Chips and Strawberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chips.
The best-before dates of the products ranged from Oct 31, 2022 to April 30, 2023.
Ethylene oxide is an organic compound used to reduce or eliminate microbiological contamination of salmonella bacteria. But the disinfection of food using the chemical is not permitted in Europe.
The Post has contacted Godiva for comment.
The brand has about 20 stores in the city and its products are also widely available in local supermarkets and convenience stores.
Sidney Chan Man-ngai, an associate professor at the School of Science and Technology at Hong Kong Metropolitan University – previously Open University – said that while Hong Kong did not have regulations on the use of ethylene oxide in food, the colourless gas with a faintly sweet odour was commonly used in industrial cleaning disinfectants.
“Food importers should ensure that the food is fit for human consumption under Hong Kong food regulations. Since ethylene oxide is banned as a pesticide in the European Union and the United States in food, it’s not safe for consumption” said Chan, a veteran in the testing and certification industry.
“Because the contaminant was found in ice cream, there is a chance for consumers to ingest this chemical which may lead to gastric irritation … or even liver injury.
“Although it’s colourless gas at room temperature, it is very reactive. Even at low concentrations, it could lead to eye or skin irritation. Since it’s a gas, it could also be inhaled and cause lung injury.”
The EU began sending alerts on ethylene oxide in food in October 2020 after sesame seeds were found contaminated with the chemical which had been used as a pesticide on the crops.
Traces of the chemical have been detected in hundreds of products, including ginger and spices and ice creams.
Any queries about the recall can be directed to Godiva at 3765 5818.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.