Vietnam News

Anxiety mounts over safety of Vietnam’s street food as scandals grow

Vietnam’s fragrant noodle soups and fresh spring rolls have won fans across the globe, but mounting food safety scandals on the country’s streets are sparking a rising tide of anxiety among millennials about what they eat.

Ms Tran Huong Lan, a 32-year-old accountant, spent two nights in hospital the last time she ate “bun cha”, Hanoi’s signature pork noodles gobbled up by former United States president Barack Obama and late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on a visit four years ago.

“About two hours after lunch, I started feeling unwell. I went home and I started vomiting,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Rushed to hospital by her husband, doctors told her there was only one explanation: food poisoning.

Ms Tran did not eat out for a month after her scare, and frequent high-profile food safety scandals have fed others’ fears.

In July, 14 people were taken to hospital in a severe condition after being poisoned by a vegan pate. Many experienced droopy eyelids and paralysed respiratory muscles.

As well as anxiety over hygiene standards, there is growing unease about high pesticide use for vegetables and herbs thrown in typical street food dishes such as fresh shrimp rolls and bun bo (dried noodles with beef).

Some 70 per cent of people aged 16 to 30 said food safety was their biggest concern – ranking the same as job security – when polled by the British Council in Vietnam this year.

Mr Truong Quoc Tung, director of the Vietnam Plant Protection Association, recently said the problem was approaching “crisis proportions”.

“Banned pesticides are being used, the environment is polluted and agricultural products are being sent back after being shipped abroad,” he told state media.

Problems with food safety cost Vietnam around US$740 million (S$996 million) per year in productivity, the World Bank says.

But across the country, from lush countryside fields to tiny urban rooftop gardens, Vietnamese are doing what they can to ensure they eat safely.

Mr Ngo Xuan Quyet, 26, used to sell pesticides for a living before switching to safe farming.

Agence France Presse – November 16, 2020

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