Production of fruits and vegetables in Viet Nam has been changing, which is driven by consumer preferences, urbanization, demographics, and rising incomes. Yet, they are produced with high usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Consumers, in general, particularly in Ha Noi, buy most of their fruits and vegetables from traditional wet markets. Produce sold in these markets are not certified and not traceable to farms. Many wet markets in Ha Noi suffer from insu ̄cient infrastructure.
Waste management is unhygienic, and there is no clear separation between the areas selling fruits and vegetables and those selling animals and animal products.
Researchers from Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA) collected biological samples of mustard greens, cucumber, and dragon fruit from farms, wholesale markets, and retail markets and analyzed them for Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli) at the Department of Food Processing Technology at VNUA. Their analysis shows that foodborne pathogens are a particular concern for leafy vegetables. About 31% of the mustard greens samples collected from farms had E. coli loads above maximum permissible levels, 67% for samples collected from wholesale markets, and 82% from retail markets.
The increase of pathogenic loads across the value chains—from farm to retail—can be traced from lack of hygienic practices in handling of fruits and vegetables by all players.
Samples of dragon fruit, mustard greens, and cucumber were also analyzed for five commonly used chemical pesticides, two heavy metals, and nitrate. Pesticide residue analysis was performed at the National Institute for Food Control, while the other contaminants were analyzed at the Department of Food Processing Technology at VNUA.
Out the three types of produce sampled, pesticide residue above permissible levels was found only in cucumber. No samples had heavy metals and nitrate concentrations above maximum permissible levels. A banned active ingredient was detected in only one type of produce, mustard greens (in one of 20 samples), and was not found in dragon fruit or cucumber.
Chemical pesticide contamination in fruits and vegetables is a key concern of consumers and other stakeholders.
Foodborne pathogens are generally perceived as a smaller concern because consumers believe they can manage this risk through food preparation methods, which is a misconception as foodborne pathogens are the most important health risks for Vietnamese consumers (World Bank 2016 ).
The Government of Viet Nam has designated particular areas for “safe vegetable production.” These areas currently account for about 40% of Ha Noi’s vegetable area of 12,000 hectares. Vegetable farmers in these areas have been encouraged to form producer cooperatives. The government regularly tests soil and water quality and also tests vegetable produce for pesticide residues once a year. Livestock farming is not allowed in these areas to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
These actions contribute to improving the food safety of vegetables to some extent. But they do help government agencies to better support smallholder vegetable farmers and monitor the quality of the produce.
Over the past decade, Viet Nam has revised its food safety laws and regulations, and the existing frameworks are mainly in line with international standards (Vu and Anh 2016 ). The country has a National Food Safety Committee, but there is no central food safety agency. Responsibilities are divided over three ministries (agriculture, commerce, and health), which results in some contradictions and confusion in enacting food safety-related regulations and acts among these ministries.
The implementing capacity of government organizations is rather limited. Authorities in charge of food safety seem to remain focused on inspection and control of end products, but not much on preventing contamination in production and marketing processes.