After breaching food safety rules three times, the Hong Kong subsidiary of US fastfood giant McDonald's has been fined for selling ice creams with a bacterial count nearly five times the permitted level.

A McDonald's ice cream sundae was found to have a bacterial count of 240,000 per gram, well above the legal limit of 50,000 per gram. While no cases of sickness have been reported, there was concern that such high levels of bacteria may cause diarrhoea.

McDonald's Restaurants (Hong Kong) Ltd. pleaded guilty to selling "substandard frozen confection'' in the Eastern Magistrates' Courts and was fined 3,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$385), according to a court document obtained by The Associated Press this week.

Health inspectors found excessive amounts of E. coli - a potentially fatal bacteria - in ice cream sundaes at two other McDonald's outlets here in December 2002 and November 2003, Ming Pao Daily News reported.