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 has revealed.

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Public health concerns were raised last month when nearly 14 tonnes of out-of-date products of Vinafood Company were found stored in HCM City's Tan Binh district.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 violations.

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.

-- BERNAMA

 

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