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Make food safe not just for Tet
Sunday,  1/27/2019, 15:37 

Make food safe not just for Tet

The Saigon Times Daily

As the Lunar New Year, or Tet, draws nearer, market monitors are intensifying their inspections to ensure food hygiene and safety.

The Department of Food Safety under the Ministry of Health has sent a correspondence to all provinces and cities nationwide asking them to launch focal inspections into vendors and producers of foods and drinks to ensure safety for consumers during the Tet holiday when demands for such products surge. The central interdisciplinary steering committee on food safety has also organized six task-force groups to carry out inspections in 12 major localities between January 1 and March 23, 2019.

Localities have also stepped up their screening to minimize risks for consumers during the biggest holiday of the year. In HCMC for example, as many as 12 special teams have been organized with the mandate to ensure food safety during Tet. This month alone, market monitors have conducted inspections into hundreds of sellers and producers of foods and drinks, seizing over 43 tons of dried food and confectionery without clear origins or brands, most of which are from China, including those items that expired long ago, according to Nguoi Lao Dong.

Last Wednesday, inspectors at Binh Dien Wholesale Market uncovered two trucks transporting 1.2 tons of unquarantined pork to the market, and had the batch destroyed, says Pham Khanh Phong Lan, head of the HCMC Food Safety Management Board. As pork is much sought after during Tet, many traders disregard the consumer’s health safety, sneakily selling substandard pork including diseased pigs to traditional wet markets, she warns.

Tightened control over food safety during the festive season like now is certainly a positive move by authorities to bring joy and assurance for consumers, given the fact that instant foods and drinks for Tet are for the most part processed manually by household businesses without proper safety procedures.

However, such inspections have largely been a seasonal movement that often subdues after Tet, and food safety remains the biggest risk to community health throughout the year. Data from the Ministry of Health shows that last year through to the end of October, the country had seen 91 massive food poisoning cases that struck over 2,000 people and killed 15. Unsafe food has also been pinpointed as the major reason behind the rising number of cancer patients.

Despite the severity of the problem, the punishment against violators has been lenient. Authorities last year imposed fines totaling VND6 billion on 99 vendors and producers, averaging out at VND60 million against each violator, which is a trivial sum compared to the illegal profit or the damage to the people’s health. Prevailing regulations allow for an administrative fine of up to VND100 million and VND200 million against an individual or an enterprise violating food safety rules, respectively, and in serious cases, a fine seven times the value of the illegal trade, but such tough sanctions have rarely applied.

As food safety remains one of the biggest concerns for consumers, relevant agencies need to organize regular inspections and slap tough fines on violators to enforce compliance. Consumers need safe food throughout the year, not just for Tet.

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