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City launches inquest into chemical-laden porridge

In Vietnam Health on November 30, 2009 at 10:13 am

The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health has begun an investigation of city businesses who sell rice porridge promoted as “nutritious.” The inquiry was launched following a Tuoi Tre Newspaper report that the porridge may contain harmful preservatives.








A girl eats rice porridge on No Trang Long street, Binh Thanh District in HCM City. Some porridge, sold as “nutritious,” in fact contains large amounts of harmful preservatives ( Photo: Tuoi tre)

Recently, a Tuoi Tre reporter posed as a businessperson who wanted to open a new rice porridge outlet. The reporter contacted a man who supplies chemical additives for the porridge recipe in HCM City’s Tan Binh District.


The trader revealed that many supposed nutritious rice porridge enterprises in fact use unsafe amounts of preservatives to enhance the flavor of food or keep it fresh and viscid.


The reporter said he was shown three bags of chemicals to use in the recipe including sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and xanthan gum.


Sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate are used as preservatives to keep food from spoiling. The trader said every porridge enterprise has its own recipe and uses different amounts of the chemicals.


He usually told companies to use around one gram each of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate per kilogram of rice porridge, though if a business wanted to keep food fresh longer or if hygienic conditions were poor, a porridge maker may increase the amount to over two grams of each chemical.


Xanthan gum is an industrial food thickener. If porridge is watery, using the agent will help it look more pleasing as a thicker porridge can support shrimp, eel and fish on the surface.


Many businesses also reportedly add flavor enhancers, known to cause a host of adverse health effects in some people.


Businesses are not permitted to use any chemicals in porridge as regulated by the Ministry of Health, unless they first gain permission from the Ministry who will inspect the origin and safety of the agents.


Tuoi Tre reporters took four samples of porridge from two businesses on No Trang Long street, Binh Thanh District to the Center of Analytical Services and Experimentation of HCMC under the Department of Sciences and Technology for tests. On November 27, the center reported that all four porridge samples contained 191,9 mg a kilogram of each of the three chemicals.


Chief inspector for the HCM City Department of Health, Nguyen Minh Hung, said his department has now launched an investigation into several city businesses, taking rice porridge samples for testing. Official test results will be publicized shortly, he said.





Dr. Tran Van Ky from the Vietnam Association of Food Science and Technology said some additives are allowed in food sold as nutritious, but businesses must first obtain permission from the health ministry as the origin and content of the chemicals must be determined.

Children are especially vulnerable to chemical additives and can suffer adverse health problems from ingesting them. Consuming large amounts of such chemicals can lead to malnourishment, poor growth and attention deficits.

Dr. Nguyen Xuan Mai, former deputy head of the HCMC Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, said babies are particularly at risk of developing liver and kidney problems if they consume certain food additives over a long period.
 


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