Hong Kong Customs urges public to stop using one type of surgical mask suspected of exceeding bacterial limit (with photos)

13 Jan 2023

​Hong Kong Customs today (January 13) appealed to members of the public to stop using one type of surgical mask as test results revealed that the bacterial count of the mask exceeded the maximum permitted limit, in contravention of the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (CGSO). Traders should remove the product from their shelves as well.

Customs earlier received information alleging that suspected unsafe surgical masks were being supplied in the market. Customs officers immediately conducted an investigation and test-purchased two types of surgical masks from two retail shops in Kwun Tong of a telecom group for safety tests. According to the relevant hygienic standard for disposable sanitary products, the total bacterial count of the sample of one type of surgical mask exceeded the maximum permitted limit by about 33 times, in contravention of the CGSO.

Moreover, Customs also found that the packages of the two types of surgical masks only bore warnings or cautions in English without any Chinese warnings or cautions, suspected to be in contravention of the Consumer Goods Safety Regulation (CGSR), a subsidiary legislation of the CGSO.

Noting the test results, Customs conducted immediate enforcement action and searched several retail shops under the group concerned, a related supplier and a related manufacturer. A total of 3 660 pieces of the surgical masks, including 10 pieces in two bags of the masks with suspected exceeded bacterial limit and 3 650 pieces in 730 bags of the masks without Chinese warnings or cautions, suspected to be connected with the case, were seized. The two types of surgical masks were packed in bags of five pieces each and was sold for $10.

During the operation, a 60-year-old male general manager of the telecom group concerned was arrested and has been released on bail pending further investigation.

An initial investigation revealed that the two types of surgical masks involved were manufactured in Hong Kong by the manufacturer connected with the case. Customs will further examine the masks to establish the types of bacteria present.

Apart from the retail shops under the telecom group, the supplier and manufacturer connected with the case, Customs officers also checked multiple retail spots in various districts, and no such products were found for sale.

In view of the development of the COVID-19 epidemic, Customs launched a large-scale territory-wide special operation codenamed "Guardian" on January 27, 2020, to conduct spot checks, test purchases and inspections in various districts regarding surgical masks available in the market. Samples of masks were also sent to the laboratory for tests on bacterial counts. The "Guardian" operation has been running for about three years to date. More than 7 700 officers have been mobilised to conduct over 44 000 inspections at retail spots in various districts to ensure that common protective items sold in the market comply with the CGSO, the CGSR and the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO).

Customs reminds members of the public to observe the following tips when purchasing and using surgical masks:

Under the CGSO, it is an offence to supply, manufacture or import into Hong Kong consumer goods unless the goods comply with the general safety requirements for consumer goods. Under the CGSR, where consumer goods or their packages are marked with warnings or cautions with respect to their safe keeping, use, consumption or disposal, such warnings or cautions shall be in both English and Chinese languages. Moreover, the warning or caution phrases must be legibly and conspicuously shown on the goods, any package of the goods, a label securely affixed to the package or a document enclosed in the package. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and $500,000 and imprisonment for two years on subsequent conviction.

Under the TDO, any person who supplies goods with a false trade description in the course of trade or business, or is in possession of any goods for sale with a false trade description, commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years.

Members of the public with information relating to unsafe consumer goods may make a report via Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (crimereport@customs.gov.hk).

Ends/Friday, January 13, 2023
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