The war on dirty food goes mobile

Update: November, 09/2016 - 09:00

HÀ NỘI – Hà Nôi authorities recently deployed three mobile food testing labs, the first such facility in the country, to detect unsafe food at city markets and restaurants. Joint food inspection teams from the departments of agriculture and rural development, trade and industry, and health went into battle along with the mobile lab.       

Last Saturday, the lab van visited Đền Lừ whole-sale market, the biggest market in the southern neighborhoods of the capital, selling fruit, cattle and poultry, vegetables and other agricultural products to the whole city and some neighbouring provinces. Inspections were also conducted at two restaurants.         

The surprise mobile lab inspections found numerous unsafe food items. For example, quick testing discovered a large amount of vegetables at Hải Xồm restaurant containing high residues of a plant protection drug, and a raw meat sample at Đền Lừ market suspected of being affected by Salbutamol.    

Lê Duy Trung of the Agricultural Product Certification Centre said operation is expected to have real impact for the city’s consumers. The mobile van is equipped with advanced equipment that can quickly analyse and classify raw food samples at a reasonable cost and accuracy of 80-85 per cent.

It takes from five minutes to one hour to test a raw food sample for different kinds of chemicals or bacteria. For example: five minutes to find borax or formaldehyde content, 45-60 minutes to detect antibiotics, residues of plant protection drugs.

Nguyễn Mai Huê, a resident of Thanh Xuân District, praised the initiative, saying it contributed to food hygiene and should be widely used. “The mobile van will be stationed at the city’s big markets every day. Consumers who want food tested will get the result immediately,” she said.

Huê said she hoped inspectors would take full advantage of the three mobile food testing labs under the management of the city’s Food Safety Administration to regularly check raw food source at restaurants and food market.

The facilities would act as a warning to vendors and street-food restaurants to ensure that the products they supply conform to food safety standards, she said.

In the near future, mobile food testing labs should also visit schools and hospitals where a large number of food vendors congregate.

"Although the quick testing on the mobile vans only provides initial information, it serves as a warning about potentially unsafe food for consumers," said Nguyễn Khắc Hiền, deputy chairman of Hà Nội Food Safety Administration’s steering committee. Samples that fail the initial testing are sent for further examination in food testing laboratories.

"All suspicious raw food samples will be banned for use or consumption until final results are received from authorized agencies," he said.  

Trần Ngọc Tụ, director of the Hà Nội Food Safety Administration, said food inspection teams would soon use such vehicles every week to visit markets, supermarkets, restaurants for both surprise and scheduled inspections.    

However, development of  state-of-the-art mobile labs requires funding by city authorities and qualified technicians from the health department. Private investment can also be mobilised for the war on dirty food.

The three US-made mobile vans were sponsored by Vingroup Joint Stock Company.    

A similar model operates in India’s Punjab and Haryana states, where consumers can check raw food samples at nominal cost.  

Việt Nam, where many consumers are in the habit of buying raw foodstuff with unclear food origins, could do the same by offering testing at markets for a low price.

However, the question that must be asked is what sanctions are imposed on suppliers of contamminated food? Many of them are poor vendors or farmers who carry vegetable bundles on bicycle from the countryside to sell in the city.

On the other hand, law enforcement authorities are also spread thin and cannot examine every food source and all products in the markets.

Ingesting dangerous chemicals and bacteria is a public health hazard. With the number of cancer cases on the rise - 150,000 new cases are discovered each year and 200 people die of cancer each day - both authorities and consumers must join hands in the fight against dirty food. -- VNS