Workers use machine lubricant to polish melon seeds

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Environmental police suspended a household melon seed processor and took samples for testing on Friday after workers reported that the seeds were being polished with industrial lubricant.

Police in the central province of Khanh Hoa on Thursday found around 60 liters of lubricant at the house in Suoi Cat Commune, Cam Lam District, alongside 3.1 tons of melon seeds, some of which were moldy, 15 kilograms of food coloring, 400 liters of cooking oil and 150 kilos of dry soda.

The household factory belongs to Ha Thi Thanh Thom and Vuong My.

Thom said she bought 31 tons of melon seeds from a company in the northern province of Bac Ninh, which had imported them from China.

Several workers at the factory said every 100 kilograms of melon seeds was mixed with 0.7 liters of lubricant, which is banned from use as a food additive in Vietnam.

They said the melon seeds were first soaked in soda solution before being cleaned with water.

The factory provided local vendors with 300-400 kilograms of unlabeled melon seeds daily. The seeds are a popular snack, especially during the Tet Lunar New Year Festival.

Untreated wastewater from the production process was also found discharged directly into a nearby garden.

Investigators said Thom and My registered their business in 2001 in Dien Khanh District. In October 2008, they moved without registering their new facility and without passing food safety inspections.

Their latest business registration certificate from December 2009, and their food safety and hygiene certificate from January, both listed the old location, which has stopped operations since the move.

An official of Khanh Hoa Department of Food Safety and Hygiene Department, who didn’t want to be named, said “We granted the certificates for the places we evaluated.”

Khanh Hoa environment police have taken samples of the seeds, soda solution, colorings, lubricant and wastewater from the factory for testing.

In related news, health inspectors in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday said they had checked six melon seed makers this month, fining one VND12.5 million (US$677) for the presence of carcinogenic dye Rhodamine B in it’s products. The five other businesses inspected did not meet hygiene requirements.

City inspectors said machine lubricant contained lead and other heavy metals harmful to human health when ingested.

Reported by Xuan Hoa-Thanh Tung

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