Vietnam hub concerns over safety of ‘world’s best street foods’

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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Nguyen Thanh Phong (R), deputy director of Vietnam Food Safety Administration, speaks to the media at the launch of the 2014 Food Safety Month at Ho Chi Minh City's Hanh Thong Tay Market. Photo: Minh Hung
A high-ranking health official cautioned people that Vietnam's street food remains largely unregulated and risky to eat.
“Pho (beef noodle) and com tam (broken rice) have been chosen among the world’s best street foods," acknowledged deputy director Nguyen Thanh Phong of the Vietnam Food Safety Administration during a launch ceremony for Food Safety Month on Thursday. "However, many eateries don't think about food safety because they sell on sidewalks to earn a thin profit."
Consumers who lack knowledge or financial resources continue to eat unsafe and unhygienic street food, he said.
“Besides, city inspectors have not been diligent in taking measures against violations,” he added.
Street Food Safety is the focus of this year’s Food Safety Month in Ho Chi Minh City.
Phong said the problem with street food doesn't just lie in low-quality ingredients, but also of the hygiene at the preparation facility.
“We cannot accept the fact that a restaurant or street food stall uses a single bucket of water to wash dozens of dishes and chopsticks. That’s unacceptable,” he told Thanh Nien News.
Five patients treated for acute diarrhea this year tested positive for cholera. They blamed the poor hygienic practices of street food sellers, he said.
Nguyen Tan Binh, director of HCMC Department of Health, also admitted his agency’s limits in ensuring food safety in the city.
“The trading of street food poses a great risks to the health of consumers, the environment, traffic safety and the image of the city,” he said.
“The management of street food has proven very difficult.  There are countless potential risks posed by unhygienic facilities, lack of proper refrigeration and clean water, and a lack of awareness about the ingredients used”
Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development set up an inspection team for Food Safety Month.
On April 11, the Ministry of Health also set up three inspection teams to keep track of food safety in HCMC, Dong Nai, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Can Tho and Soc Trang.
Incomplete statistics estimate there are more than 28,000 street food facilities in HCMC alone.
The city's Food Safety Agency recently announced it had discovered coliform bacteria and fungi in sugar cane juice samples taken from five facilities citywide.
In a recent case of food poisoning, more than 30 people became ill after eating sandwiches from a cart in the Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat.
Earlier, 14 students in Dong Nai were hospitalized due to vomiting and abdominal pain after eating banh trang tron (mixed rice paper salad) near their school.

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