A report has looked at the food safety of produce in Vietnam and suggested ways to improve the situation.
The study, published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), focused on fruit and vegetable value chains in the country and included laboratory analysis of samples from the field.
Most consumers buy fruits and vegetables from traditional wet markets, where production does not have safety labels and it is not certified or traceable to farms. Cold storage rooms at markets could reduce postharvest losses and the risk of microbial contamination found the report.
Data collection included a review of published literature; interviews with farmers, suppliers, and key informants; and sampling of fruits and vegetables at several points in the value chain. All data were collected from June to July 2021.
The Government of Vietnam has designated areas for safe vegetable production. Farmers in these zones have been encouraged to form producer cooperatives. The government regularly tests soil and water quality plus vegetables for pesticide residues once a year. Livestock farming is not allowed to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Researchers recommended expanding this idea to other parts of the country to promote fruit and vegetable safety.
Foodborne pathogen findings
A survey conducted for the study found that 91 percent of 32 respondents were concerned about the contamination of food because of the use of pesticides. Interviews also confirmed problems with pesticide misuse on farms.
Consumers are less concerned about foodborne pathogens, partly because of their lack of knowledge and awareness, and also because they think the problem can be solved by washing, peeling, and proper cooking.
Mustard greens, cucumber, and dragon fruit were assessed for pesticides, foodborne pathogens, heavy metals, and nitrate. A total of 156 samples were tested for microbial contamination, 60 were analyzed for pesticide residues, 136 for heavy metals, and 116 for nitrate.
Salmonella was detected in one of the 32 samples of mustard greens collected from farmers’ fields and in one of 15 samples from wholesale markets.
Ten samples of mustard greens from farmers’ fields and wholesale markets had E. coli loads above the maximum permissible level, as did nine of 11 samples from the retail market.
Interviews with people from production cooperatives and retailers showed none of them had a good understanding of the risk from foodborne pathogens.
Focus on authorities and regulations
Overuse of pesticides is an important driver of food contamination in Vietnam. Farmers need to be rewarded for safe produce while being subject to stricter enforcement of existing regulations, said the report.
The country has a National Food Safety Committee but no central food safety agency. Responsibilities are divided across the agriculture, commerce, and health ministries, which can result in contradictions and confusion in enacting food safety-related regulations.
About two-thirds of survey respondents rated the capacity of the public sector to manage food safety as inadequate. More than half thought there was a need to restructure some laws and regulations as the legal framework was too large and complex, complicating enforcement.
It also revealed findings on capacity showed the requirement to strengthen food safety authorities in terms of human resources, better facilities, and higher budgets.
Authorities in charge of food safety are focused on the inspection and control of end products, but not as much on preventing contamination in production and marketing processes. This approach should be modernized, according to the report.
Researchers said there was a need for more systematic testing for contaminants and to make results public.
“There is also a clear need to strengthen the capacity of food safety authorities, both at national and subnational levels. Food safety management needs to be guided by a clear understanding of and focus on risk factors, systematic use of data, shared responsibilities between private and public sector actors, and preventive measures implemented along the value chain.”
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