Health ministry tightens inspections to combat food poisoning

May 15, 2024 - 17:48
Tightening the management of food safety, especially where products are sourced, must be implemented more rigorously, health experts have said.
A student buying food from a street vendor outside the school gate in HCM City. VNA/VNS Photo Đinh Hằng

HÀ NỘI — The Ministry of Health has urged local authorities to impost better inspections and supervision of food hygiene and safety measures at restaurants, street vendors and facilities producing bottled and packaged beverages.

The ministry insists it will suspend any establishments that fail to meet food safety standards or lack the necessary certifications, and those violations will be made public.

The move followed a series of recent food poisoning incidents nationwide, with notable cases occurring at various eateries and food vendors frequented by large numbers of customers on a daily basis.

In March, a severe case of mass food poisoning occurred at a Trâm Anh chicken rice restaurant in the south-central province of Khánh Hoà, resulting in 368 people being taken to hospital. The restaurant failed to keep records of the number of customers served, nor did it retain food samples as required. Authorities have yet to determine which dish contained the bacteria causing the poisoning.

Two months later, 28 students in Nha Trang City were hospitalised with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea after eating breakfast from various vendors near the school gates.

On April 30, over 500 people were taken to hospital due to food poisoning after eating bread in the southern province of Đồng Nai.

In that case authorities found that the bakery sold around 1,000 breads per day without proper business licences or food safety certifications. Most food samples taken from the bakery had a high levels of Salmonella, E.coli and other harmful bacteria.

On May 8, 19 students in four primary schools in Thủ Đức District in HCM City had to seek medical attention for developing food poisoning symptoms after consuming meals at the dormitory canteen. They are now in stable health conditions. An investigation is underway to find the cause of the incident.

Dr Nguyễn Thanh Phong, Director of the ministry’s Food Hygiene and Safety Department explained that the current weather is a prime time for cases of food poisoning due to bacterial growth, especially bacteria causing gastrointestinal diseases, toxic substances in plants, fruits, aquatic products and improper processing and storage of ingredients and food.

According to a report from the Central Inter-Agency Steering Committee on Food Safety, in 2023, the healthcare sector inspected over 382,000 establishments, discovering 34,500 violations, with over 12,000 establishments fined approximately VNĐ44.4 billion.

In 2023, there were 125 cases of food poisoning nationwide, affecting over 2,100 people, with 28 fatalities. Compared to 2022, the number of food poisoning incidents increased 2.3 times and the number of deaths increased 1.6 times.

According to food safety expert Vũ Thế Thành, the amount of Salmonella bacteria in food must be sufficient to cause poisoning. When passing through the stomach, some bacteria are destroyed by gastric acid and the remaining Salmonella reaches the small intestine where it has the opportunity to damage the intestinal mucosa, causing poisoning symptoms.

He also stressed that consumers exposed to contaminated food or drinks may not experience symptoms of poisoning until several hours or even days later.

Students are hospitalised for food poisoning after consuming rice rolls purchased from street vendors outside the gates of four primary schools in HCM City's Thủ Đức City. VNA/VNS Photo Đinh Hằng

Dr Nguyễn Duy Thịnh, former lecturer at the Institute of Technology and Food under Hanoi University of Science and Technology, said that the recent surge in mass food poisoning incidents is alarming.

Most food is stored in large volumes and due to bulk buying places may not be able to be selective about ingredients, and prolonged storage increases the risk of food contamination, he explained.

At the end of 2023, the number of restaurants and cafes listed in Viêt Nam exceeded 300,000, but this does not include smaller eateries and street food stalls, which is where many children, low-income earners and young people buy food.

Managing food safety at such stalls and mobile vendors is a challenge, many businesses lack clear product origins, production dates and expiration dates. Therefore, tightening the management of food safety, especially regarding product origins, must be implemented more rigorously than ever before, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Trần Lưu Quang has asked all ministries and local authorities, to put measures in place to prevent and address food poisoning incidents, especially in tourist areas, school canteens and industrial zones.

He urged the ministry to urgently research and develop an effective food safety incident alert system to provide timely emergency response and treatment for food poisoning victims.

The ministry has also issued an advisory document to health departments to emphasise that leaders must take responsibility for violations of food safety laws in their localities.

Authorities should take decisive action to suspend operations for establishments that do not ensure food safety conditions or lack the necessary food safety certifications.

Additionally, consumers are advised to enhance their awareness when selecting safe food products for the sake of their health. — VNS