by Hong Minh
For more than two months now, Hanoian housewife Nguyen Thanh Thuy says a Russian-made food test kit has been an inseparable companion on shopping trips to local markets and supermarkets.
Thuy said that the test kit, a device as small as a mobile phone with a pointed metal stick, helped her feel more confident shopping for toxic-free food materials, just after 15 to 20 seconds of testing.
"With concerns about food hygiene and safety, I bought this device for VND4.5 million (US$200) through a website that said it can detect the toxic residues on vegetable, fruit, meat and fish. I have been using it to its utmost since then," she said.
Thuy said that many circles of housewives in Ha Noi have been whispering about the test kits, many of whom are concerned about pesticides and food practices.
Two popular options available from Russia have Vietnamese language settings and can detect toxicity in more than 60 types of food.
Using the device is simple and only requires inserting a metal stick into the food for 15-20 seconds. The price ranges from VND4.5-6 million ($200-270).
"Some food shop sellers hate me because I used the device a lot in their food," Thuy laughed.
With a more cautious and suspicious attitude, Hoang Hoa, a resident of Ha Noi's Royal City residential area, researched the devices extensively after a friend gave her a test kit.
"I learned that the test kit I have can only make quick tests on nitrate residues in fresh fruits and raw meat. I knew that there is no device that tests all kinds of harmful residues, as some people may mistake," she said.
Hoa said that she threw away a lot of food that were detected with excessive nitrate residues, reading that long periods of nitrate consumption can lead to cancer.
"Even if it can detect only one chemical, I believe it is still very useful for people who want to protect their health since there is no official help from the authorities," she said.
Experts in food and health sectors said that the nitrate test kit that Thuy and Hoa use targeted many customers worried about food safety and hygiene.
"There is no test kit to detect all toxic residues on food, but it is still very good if it can detect one or two," said Cao Van Trung, deputy head of food poisoning supervision under the Ministry of Health's food administration.
"However, the concern from nitrate residues in vegetable and fruit is not as serious as the issue of plant protection chemicals," Trung added.
Nguyen Xuan Hong, deputy head of Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, took a different stance, doubting the reliability of the test kits, saying that tests must be made at qualified laboratories.
Others have argued that it's a waste of money. Tran Hong Con, a lecturer at the Viet Nam National University's College of Natural Sciences, said that even if the device works, detecting one chemical is not worth the money.
While customers continue to sort through the immense pool of information about these kits and food safety, the Ministry of Health's Department of Food Safety warned consumers last week to be cautious of buying food test kits since many of them were not licenced by authorities.
Hoa from Royal City had a different take. She said that since authorities do not have detailed information on food hygiene and safety to guide people, she, like many other customers, would continue to buy devices they think can help.
"Even with the price of millions of dong, if I have to, I am willing to pay for several devices with different tests," she said. — VNS