Up to 88 percent of cold noodle products tested by the Consumers’ Foundation contained excessive levels of bacteria, secretary-general Wu Jia-cheng (吳家誠) said yesterday.
Sixteen cold noodle samples — four from convenience chain stores and 12 from traditional shops or vendors — were tested in late May, he said.
All 12 samples from traditional stores or vendors had excessive levels of viable bacteria and 11 contained excessive amounts of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterium, which is commonly found in soil and in the intestines of humans and animals and causes severe food poisoning.
The total viable bacteria counts in two samples each from convenience stores also exceeded permitted levels, Wu said
Factors contributing to the presence of E. coli include cross-contamination between raw and cooked food, as well as poor food handling and storage, Wu said.
Total viable bacteria counts, considered to be the most reliable marker of contamination, are often employed to assess food safety and sanitation during the manufacturing process. High bacteria counts can be attributed to improper cleaning and sanitizing of water, equipment and food materials, Wu said.
He said the sanitary conditions for cold noodle products have deteriorated since the foundation began its annual safety checks on the product two years ago. The foundation urged the Department of Health to demand immediate improvements by imposing stricter penalties for food sanitation violations.
Products that fail safety tests should be removed from store shelves and storeowners should improve their food hygiene standards, the foundation said.
A spokesman for the Hi-Life chain of convenience stores said his company had demanded that the manufacturer of the problem products suspend its supply, adding that it would also launch a comprehensive inspection.
A 7-Eleven store representative questioned the foundation’s methodology, saying that cold noodles generally undergo several rounds of testing during the manufacturing process before stored in refrigerators at 4ºC. The samples that failed to pass the foundation’s test might have been tested under high-temperature conditions, the representative said.
The foundation insists its tests were conducted in accordance with professional standards.