Some banned food additives such as borax continue to be sold openly at a wholesale market in Ho Chi Minh City.
Kim Bien Market in District 5 is where owners of food processing establishments have come for years to buy borax for use in the making of chả (pork or beef roll).
Chả (also called giò), made of pounded pork or beef and traditionally wrapped in banana leaves, is the most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine.
Huong, the owner of a chemical shop in the market, told Thanh Nien borax is cheap and is very popular among food processors.
It makes the pounded meat firm, crunchy and delicious, she said.
Traders in the market also sell other food additives, mostly imported from China, that are advertised as products that make chả delicious, including a powder known only as “the anti-rotting substance.”
“If you put several spoons of this powder in pounded meat, the chả will stay fresh for up to 10 days,” a trader told Thanh Nien.
In late April authorities in Binh Thuan Province closed down two food processing establishments that used rotten meat and a large amount of borax to make chả.
Truong Nhan, the owner of a chả processing establishment in HCMC’s Tan Binh District, said chả never tastes good without borax in it.
“I tried not adding borax to the pounded pork once. The following day, consumers complained that the pork rolls were not as delicious as usual, and the meat was soft and not firm.”
He thus implicitly blamed customers’ taste for the use of borax, saying he had no choice but to use it though he was aware of the health risks.
A kilogram of chả supposedly contains 90 percent pounded meat and 10 percent fat, pepper, onion and garlic. But in fact only half of it is meat and the other half consists of fat, tapioca starch and many other food additives.
The Ministry of Health prohibits the use of borax in food processing given its toxicity, but the ban is not strictly enforced.