Vietnam under-equipped to handle food safety, hygiene issues

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A lack of funds and expertise has limited Vietnam's ability to test food safety and hygiene, experts say.

Vietnam is still passive in detecting food safety and hygiene problems, with agencies dealing with them after receiving reports, Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Vietnam Food Administrator under the Ministry of Health, said at a conference in Hanoi Thursday.

Warnings issued about food safety and hygiene hazards are also limited, he said.

For example, a common dish like banh gio a traditional rice dumpling in pyramid shape is at risk of having safety and hygiene problems, because it is mainly made at homes with no supervision or monitoring.

The same situation applies to several varieties of rice wine, he added.

"The absence of standards and proactive action in supervising [food safety] has limited the warnings about risks," Khan said.

Dr. Tran Van Ky of the southern branch of the Vietnam Association of Food Safety Technology said the country's capacity to test food safety and hygiene depends on having the right equipments and skilled human resources.

However, Vietnam is yet to offer proper training in the field, Ky said.

Agreeing with Ky, a chemical engineer in Ho Chi Minh City, said due to the shortage of skillful human resources, agencies are only handling cases following media reports.

Vietnam urgently needs qualified personnel in testing food safety and hygiene, considering the variety of substances and additives currently in use, he added.

Pham Xuan Da, head of the National Institute for Testing Food Safety and Hygiene, said to guarantee tests' quality, labs and agencies need to apply systems of supervising its own tests' quality and using estimates of other organizations as reference. 

However, many labs don't pay attention to this due to the high costs involved and also because it will expose their deficiencies, Da said.

Khan said at the conference that Vietnam is looking to launch a project to establish systems of quick and active warnings and estimates about high risk foods next year, after receiving approval from the government.

According to the Ministry of Health, Vietnam has recorded 128 cases of food poisoning this year involving 4,660 people suffering, 40 of whom died.

In several of these cases, the causes have not yet been established.

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