by Hong Minh
Most people have heard of imported fruit that stays firm for five to nine months without a trace of rotting. The stories have led to a swirl of contradictory statements from authorities and experts.
Last month, rumours about imported Chinese fruit bought in Ha Noi that did not go rotten after months at room temperature again raised concerns about the quality and safety of some of the food on sale in this country.
An apple bought by a resident in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District during the Tet (Lunar New Year) in January is said to be still firm after nine months on an ancestral altar. Even the director of the National Institute for Food Safety Testing shared his story about a Chinese pear that remained fresh after being left in his office for five months.
The reports have moved the ministers for health and agriculture, and for rural development to call for more information so they can try and end the controversy.
By the end of September, head of the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Xuan Hong, took the frontline by telling the media that it was normal for apples to remain good after nine months.
According to him, fruit can be kept fresh for long periods if it is not infected by micro-organisms, is treated with approved preservatives, and stored at about five degrees Celsius.
He said people should stay calm and not jump to conclusions that long lasting fruit had been treated with toxic preservatives.
Just four days after the statement, many experts, including those from the Viet Nam Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Post-Harvest Technology and the HCM City-based Institute for Biotechnology and Food, refuted the argument.
Chu Van Thien, from the Viet Nam Institute of Agriculture Engineering and Post-Harvest technology, said that apples and pears from China that could stay fresh for long months must have been treated with unknown chemicals.
The public, again, was pushed into doubt - and the topic has remained hot for the last week. The contradictory official conclusions sound more like uninformed debates on social networks than official statements from authorities appointed to clarify such problems.
In the meantime, consumers are the ones left wondering - and suffering. Many have said they are afraid of buying fruit, either domestic or imported, as they do not know what to believe in.
As a mother and a housewife, this writer understands the importance of fruit to nutrition, especially to the development of young children. Like many others, I am floundering in a pool of muddy information. My family, relatives, friends and colleagues eat fruit every day, but we are left wondering whether this is a good thing.
Where are the ministers of health, of agriculture and rural development, even of trade and industry, when you are needed? Why do you take so long to ponder a situation when you have all the testing equipment at hand?
It's not time for wishy-washy advice. We need you to go out and find the facts - and pass them on to us. — VNS