August 03, 2009 17:04 PM
Vietnam: Food Safety Checks Let Consumers Down
HANOI, Aug 3 (Bernama) -- A shortage of food hygiene and
safety inspectors nationwide has contributed to 29 deaths from food
poisoning and more than 2,500 people hospitalised in the first six months
of this year, the Ministry of Health's Food Hygiene and Safety Department
The main reason was contamination with coliform bacterial such as E. coli,
B. cereus, C. perfringens and S. aureus, indicating that products were kept
for a long time before being processed, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) quoted Dr
Luong My Binh of Central Paediatricts Hospital as saying.
E. coli can cause urinary tract infections while B. cereus bacteria can
also lead to diarrhoea.
Products were usually contaminated during processing or by the use of
preservative substances, such as borax or artificial colours, Binh said.
Public health concerns were raised last month when nearly 14 tonnes of
out-of-date products of Vinafood Company were found stored in HCM City's
Tan Binh district.
"It is a big company," Hanoian Le Thuy Son said.
"It provides food nationwide. Surely, each person in Vietnam uses its
food, so how many people would get diarrhoea due to their expired food?
"I wonder why their product were not checked by the relevant
departments of food hygiene and safety," Le added.
Food Hygiene and Safety Department deputy head Nguyen Thanh Phong said only
42 of 63 provinces and cities in the country had food hygiene and safety
agencies and the 230 inspectors employed had other responsibilities such as
the pharmaceutical sector.
This meant that each province or city had about two food hygiene and safety
inspectors to check more than 490,000 enterprises nationwide, Phong said.
In some localities, each enterprise had its food hygiene and safety checked
only once every five years.
This led to more violations of food hygiene and safety regulations and more
food poisoning cases.
Hung Yen province had plans to establish a food hygiene and safety
department but did not have the staff, its Health Department deputy chief
inspector Ngo Minh Thuan said.
When officers from other agencies were called on to inspect local food
hygiene and safety issues, they had no experience, which affected the
quality of the inspections, he said.
Head of Vinh Phuc province Food Hygiene and Safety Department's inspection
unit Vu Duc Thanh said he had yet to gain an inspector's licence so he was
prevented from handing out fines of more than 500,000 VND, even for serious
The ministry's Food Hygiene and Safety Department head Nguyen Cong Khan
said that to solve the situation, the department planned to delegate seven
staff members to food hygiene and safety units at the grassroots level and
to improve the skills and knowledge of relevant authorities.
The department would also cooperate with training schools for inspectors
and continue to build long-term training programmes at universities for
specialised officers in food hygiene and safety.