Anxiety mounts over Vietnam’s food hygiene

A typical street food vendor at a Vietnam market. (Photo:

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.

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 US 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 AFP.

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

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.

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 $740 million per year in productivity, the World Bank says.

“When I worked (at the pesticide company) I really got to know about the chemical substances in them,” said Quyet, who studied agriculture at university.

“I learnt about the awful impact (of overuse).. and I started to want to grow safe vegetables,”

At the moment “we are targeting workplace canteens, school kitchens and supermarkets but my goal is also to reach pregnant women, who very much need to eat quality food”, he added.

Heavy metals found in soil or water used for agriculture in Vietnam may be a significant contributor to the incidence of some forms of cancer, the World Bank says, while heavy pesticide use may also have long-term impacts.

Source: Bangkok Post