Department of Health endorses voluntary recall of Chinese herbal medicine due to excessive aflatoxin levels

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21st February 2024 – (Hong Kong) The Department of Health (DH) has given its approval today,21st February, for licensed Chinese herbal medicine (Chm) wholesaler Wong Chak Kee Limited to initiate a voluntary recall of a specific batch of Chm called Nidus Vespae (batch number: 230228). This action comes after the sample of Chm collected during the DH’s market surveillance showed the presence of aflatoxins exceeding the limits set by the Chinese Medicines Board of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong (CMCHK).

Upon analysis at the Government Laboratory, it was found that each kilogram of the Nidus Vespae sample contained 44 micrograms of aflatoxins and 30mcg of aflatoxin B1, surpassing the limits specified by the CMCHK. According to regulations, each kilogram of the aforementioned Chm should not contain more than 10mcg of aflatoxins and 5mcg of aflatoxin B1.

Preliminary investigations suggest that the affected batch of Nidus Vespae was imported from the Mainland by Wong Chak Kee Limited. The DH is currently tracing the distribution of this Chm batch. So far, no adverse reports related to the usage of this particular Chm have been received, and the investigation is still ongoing.

To address public concerns, Wong Chak Kee Limited has established a hotline (2858 2168) for any enquiries. The DH will closely monitor the recall process.

Under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), Nidus Vespae is classified as a Schedule 2 Chm. It is derived from the honeycomb of Polistes olivaceous (DeGeer), Polistes japonicus Saussure, or Parapolybia varia Fabricius, and is commonly used for toxin expulsion, worm elimination, wind dispersal, and pain relief.

“Aflatoxins are heat-resistant compounds produced by molds such as Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus, and related species. Environmental factors like high temperature and humidity, as well as improper storage conditions, can contribute to the occurrence of molds and subsequent high levels of aflatoxins in contaminated Chm. The DH advises the industry to strictly control the temperature and humidity of Chm storage facilities, particularly for those susceptible to mold infestation. Additionally, members of the public are urged to store Chm properly in dry and cool places,” stated a DH spokesman.

The spokesman further emphasised that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, has classified aflatoxins as carcinogenic to humans. Long-term ingestion of aflatoxins can lead to liver cancer, with a relatively higher risk for individuals with hepatitis B.