The recent e-coli outbreak in Germany and the drinks contamination scare in Taiwan have again highlighted growing international concern about food safety.
One of the companies providing reassurance to consumers is SGS, a global provider of inspection, testing, verification and certification services.
"In a nutshell, we help companies ensure that their products are safe, of certain quality standards and environmentally friendly," says Spencer Yeung, managing director of SGS Hong Kong.
Yeung says that while testing of the final product is essential to food safety, it is just one step.
"In our services, we advise and help our clients look at the entire food product life cycle, from raw material sourcing, to manufacturing, to product risk monitoring and management," Yeung says.
"The best approach to ensuring food safety and quality is to manage the food production line holistically and prevent risks from happening, rather than simply relying on food testing," he adds.
"Currently, radiation contamination testing is mainly for food products and sometimes also for cosmetic products," he says. "Consumers are particularly concerned over the safety of food and cosmetic products because we consume or use them on a daily basis, and these products have direct contact with our body."
Amid widespread product piracy, consumers are sometimes unable to simply trust brand names and label descriptions. Often this may just mean a handbag falls apart all too soon, but occasionally the consequences can be much more grave.
Yeung says that making sure a product is what it claims to be is a big part of what his company does. "Particularly for high-value remedial products such as ginseng, Western medicines and food products like beef," he says. "Examples include verification of active ingredients through third-party DNA test and ingredient verification against product claims such as 'no-fat' or 'sugar-free'."
Society's growing awareness of the need to promote a healthier environment and limit damage to the natural world has prompted a range of relevant regulations.
"The core service that many companies require in terms of environmental regulation compliance is what we call `chemical testing', a service to ensure that certain restricted substances are not contained in the product, usually for export purposes," explains Yeung. "We also offer product life cycle consultancy services like eco-design and green packaging to help companies adopt environmentally-friendly and socially-responsible business practice."
Yeung notes that SGS is operating in a fast-growing industry. "Specifically, we have seen increasing demand for green or environmentally-friendly related testing and certification services, such as carbon management, product eco-design service, CSR-related training and certification. Growth is particularly strong in the areas of testing of cosmetics products, Chinese medicine and high-pricing food products as well as environmental service offerings."
Another expanding area of business is in the service industry, a key factor in Hong Kong's economic growth. "We have seen growing demand in the retail, service and hospitality and catering industries as the public have higher expectations of the services they get," he adds.
Hong Kong's location and infrastructure make it a natural hub within Asia and SGS has its regional customer platform and research and development centre in the city.
"The government announced a couple of years ago that the testing and certification industry is one of the six new economic pillars for Hong Kong," says Yeung. "Government support has provided the industry with many growth opportunities. For example, CEPA 7 provides opportunities to Hong Kong testing labs to undertake product testing for the China Compulsory Certification system."
With all these opportunities for growth, and with sustainable growth identified by SGS as the future trend, the future looks bright for anyone joining the industry.
Yeung spells out what his company looks for in job applicants: "We like people who are like us, who have a strong sense of responsibility towards better consumer health, better living environment and better future for the planet. Some of our technical posts will require certain technical skill set and background. But what we are most concerned about is the person's mindset."