Health & Medical

Irish oysters blocked in Hong Kong; beef exports to China resume

Irish oysters blocked in Hong Kong; beef exports to China resume thumbnail

Oysters from Ireland have been linked to illnesses in Hong Kong. In other news from the region, China is lifting a 2020 ban on beef exports due to BSE this week.

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in Hong Kong ordered the industry to suspend the import of raw oysters harvested in Carlingford Lough in Ireland.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health is investigating a food poisoning cluster affecting 16 people.

Eight males and eight females, aged 25 to 36, developed abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, fever, general weakness, nausea, and vomiting about 21 to 44 hours after attending a lunch banquet at a restaurant in late December. Eight people sought medical advice but none required hospitalization and they are all in stable condition.

Oysters harvested in Ireland

Illnesses have also been reported after the consumption of oysters at another restaurant in Mong Kok.

“The CFS conducted investigations at the restaurants concerned and found that both of them had sold raw oysters which had been harvested in Carlingford Lough in Ireland. For the sake of prudence, the CFS has immediately instructed the trade to suspend the import into and sale within Hong Kong of all raw oysters harvested in Carlingford Lough,” said an agency spokesman.

The CFS has told the supplier and restaurants concerned to stop supplying and selling the affected raw oysters and is tracing the distribution of the affected product. The industry should also stop using or selling the implicated products.

Raw or partially cooked oysters are high-risk foods, according to public health officials. Vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or liver diseases, should avoid eating them.

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When asked to comment on the incident, Irish authorities said: “The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, and the Marine Institute are investigating the suspected source of two food poisoning clusters which occurred in Hong Kong possibly linked to the consumption of raw oysters which were harvested in Carlingford Lough, Ireland. The investigation is currently ongoing.” 

BSE-related suspension over

Meanwhile, Irish beef exports to China can restart after restrictions that had been in place since 2020 were lifted by the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC).

Beef shipments were suspended in May 2020 following a case of atypical Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also sometimes referred to as mad cow disease. Atypical BSE is rarer than classical BSE and happens spontaneously, usually in older cows. Ireland got access to export frozen boneless beef to China in April 2018. Exports grew until 2020 when trade was suspended in line with a sanitary agreement.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) said the BSE case was detected by its surveillance program, did not enter the food chain, and posed no risk to human health. 

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, said Irish officials had been in ongoing contact with Chinese authorities since the suspension.

“They provided the necessary technical information for evaluation by Chinese experts. Earlier this year, as a result of my communication with my counterpart in charge of GACC, our officials engaged in further bilateral talks to finalize the restoration of beef access based on scientific principles,” he said.

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“Ireland’s reputation as an exporter of high-quality beef worldwide hinges on its compliance with stringent animal health and food safety standards. As a major food exporter, we are always very conscious of the concerns of our customers. China’s decision to resume Irish beef imports on the same conditions as before represents a clear vote of confidence in the output of our beef sector.”

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