Vietnamese street food sellers face new bureaucracy

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Street food sellers will have to pass an exam on food safety to obtain a certificate under a new regulation which takes effect on May 26. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
Hoa makes yogurt, caramel cream and cake at home in Hanoi. 
She says she does everything by the book and even has a food safety certificate issued by the ward authorities hanging on her wall.
Recently, those same officials told her to attend a training session on food safety that she didn't have time for.
“The owner of a pho (beef soup) eatery near my house went but failed to learn anything. Because each person had to pay VND200,000 (US$9.4) at the end of each class, she refused to attend any more sessions,” Tuoi Tre quoted her as saying.
Following the new courses, food sellers nationwide will have to pass an exam on food safety according to a controversial government circular that takes effect on May 26.
Jointly issued by the ministries of health, industry and trade, and agriculture and rural development, the circular requires food producers and sellers to answer 80 percent of test questions correctly to qualify for the new safety certificate.
Tran Quang Trung, director of the Food Safety Department said relevant agencies will start issuing fines once the new circular goes into effect.
Many farmers unaware of food safety principles sell products soon after spraying them with pesticide, he said to stress the importance of the new law.
He admitted that it will be difficult to certify all food producers and sellers: “But we have to get 70-80 percent.”
Unrealistic expectations
Many experts are doubtful the new regulations will be enforced, especially among street food sellers and hawkers.
Tran Tuan, director of the Research and Training Center for Community Development, said Vietnam still lacks clear food safety procedures.
“For example, there should be a model for selling bun cha (rice noodles and grilled pork) that all bun cha vendors can follow.”
“Many food sellers have limited knowledge of food safety and it is difficult for them to obtain food safety knowledge or any training in general,” he said.
Tuan said the new regulation should be applied in a trial locality before being enforced nationwide.
“Even at the supermarkets, which are easy to manage, food safety is still a concern,” he said.
Nguyen Son of the Hanoi-based Institute of World Economics and Politics said that requiring food producers and sellers to obtain yet another certificate would prove troublesome.
“How can it be applied in Vietnam where there are thousands of household businesses and hawkers selling street food?” he asked.
Son said the government should categorize food producers and sellers in managing food safety.
“We can give them leaflets about food safety instead of forcing them to register and pay a fee for a certificate,” he said.

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