Dr Tran Dang, former head of the Ministry of Health's Food Administration, talked with Dai doan ket (Great Unity) newspaper about ensuring food safety during Tet.
Members of the public have expressed their concerns over the feasibility of the ministry's newly released circular aiming to control street food. How will street food vendors be able to follow the circular if they are not fully aware of the new regulations?
Food services are booming so we need regulations to manage it. However, restricted dissemination has prevented street vendors from accessing the new information.
We need to ensure that vendors are properly informed of the latest requirements. We will also look at ways to deal with unspecified criteria.
What measures do you think we should take to stop unhygienic food practices?
We have an inspection system, but honestly, it doesn't work effectively. Many inspectors are graduates but have little experience in the field.
It's vital to reform the quality of inspectors and inspection stages.
We will strengthen inspections of both small-scale businesses in temporary markets and supermarkets, especially organic vegetables.
Food hygiene and safety must follow a strict process from raw materials, production, processing and preservation, but inspectors only focus on the last step. What do you think about that?
I think that management is overlapping.
According to Decree 163, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development would take responsibility of producing food, the Ministry of Industry and Trade would be in charge of processing food and the Ministry of Health would take care of final products.
However, since the Law on Food Hygiene and Safety was introduced, everything has become more complicated. For example, Clause 62 stipulated that the Ministry of Health would be in charge of functional foodstuff, beverages and food additives, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development would take care of essential goods such as dairy products, fruit and vegetables, aquaculture and honey.
Let's take a vendor as an example. She sells noodles, several bottles of water, vegetables and a box of cooking oil. So, to inspect the food quality, we need inspectors from the Ministry of Industry and Trade to check her noodles, inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to check her vegetables and inspectors from the Ministry of Health to check her cooking oil. It's too complicated!
Three ministries are in charge of food safety but it's still not guaranteed. The Ministry of Health must take charge and issue criteria for food hygiene and safety and the other ministries must follow them strictly.
But it is not that easy. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has difficulty monitoring food produced by small-scale household businesses while the Ministry of Industry and Trade has to deal with street vendors.
What is your evaluation of people's awareness of food safety and hygiene, especially with Tet approaching?
I think that people's awareness has increased remarkably over the past ten years, but at least half of food enterprises and consumers lack knowledge of the issue.
Many violations have been uncovered by the Market Watch recently such as rotten meat, smuggled chickens and counterfeit alcohol. I think that inspectors must be more pro-active in their roles to stop unhygienic food from reaching our tables. — VNS