Food safety in Vietnam

[F]reshness is responsible for much of the safety as well as the deliciousness of Vietnamese dishes. Researchers have found freshness to be the most preferred attribute of pork for Vietnamese consumers, with pork meat typically being purchased very fresh every day.

Two recent publications from ILRI, the International Livestock Research Institute, provide further evidence of the difference between risks and hazards associated with pork in Vietnam. You may remember Delia Grace, an ILRI researcher, talking about this important distinction in the episode In praise of meat, milk and eggs.

The papers look at two hazards — bacteria and harmful chemicals — and they find, as Delia Grace said, that what people worry about and what makes them sick are not the same.

People worry about toxic chemicals, but actually they’re not much of a risk in pork in Vietnam (although they may be undesirable for other reasons, such as antibiotic resistance).

By contrast, Salmonella is relatively common and causes a fair bit of disease, but people don’t worry that much about it, possibly because of the “freshness fetish”.

[T]he burden of the biological hazard (Salmonella) was orders of magnitude greater than that of the chemical hazards.

However, as the market for pork expands, and the chain from pig farmer to pork eater lengthen, freshness is likely to suffer, raising the food safety stakes.

The upshot is that officials tasked with improving food safety in the very rapidly developing pork markets of Vietnam need to focus on “putting in place basic food safety practices along pig production and pork processing, selling, cooking and eating to minimize the risk of infection with Salmonella“.

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