The food safety watchdog in Ho Chi Minh City has found purported ‘strange ingredients’ as they checked an outlet of Kieu Giang, a famous local com tam (broken rice) chain, in District 9 earlier this week.
Several kinds of unknown raw materials and spices stored in casks and plastic containers, which were full of dirt, were found by the inter-district inspection team at the Kieu Giang Restaurant at 652 Hanoi Highway, Phuoc Long B Ward, during a raid on Tuesday.
Kieu Giang’s business focuses on selling ‘com tam,’ or broken rice, a Vietnamese dish made from rice with fractured rice grains, usually served with grilled pork belly.
Beside this flagship store on Hanoi Highway, Kieu Giang also has six other restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City.
The inspection revealed a series of food safety violations at the venue, including running an unhygienic food processing area, having workers make direct contact with food without wearing masks and gloves, and using food additives of unclear origin.
Upon checking the restaurant’s cold storage, officers found different kinds of meat soaked in a solution that had formed floating stuff and released foul smell.
The officers also discovered strange spices in white colors, with pungent smell, greasy sweet taste, and packed in bags, weighing ten to 12 kilograms each.
The outside of these packages is generally noted as “fish sauce” or “pickle,” without proper labels. They are believed to be used for cooking at the restaurant.
According to one attendant of the store, they just add these spices to water then put the vegetables into the solution to make a ready-to-serve side dish.
There were 89 packages, collectively weighing 1,029 kilograms, of those spices at the eatery at the time of inspection, according to the officers.
The inspectors also found plastic bags containing light yellow spices, meant to be used for stewing and cooking chicken.
The representative of the restaurant was unable to show any document of origin for these ingredients.
The inspection team sealed all the relevant products and sent their samples to testing labs.
As of Wednesday, Ho Chi Minh City’s food safety management board still did not know what these ingredients were, according to an officer.
“[Kieu Giang] said that they mix different kinds of spices such as sugar and seasoning powder to marinate meats, but they did not show any documents proving the origin of these spices,” said the officer.
It will take a lot of time to clarify what the “strange ingredients” used at the Kieu Giang eatery are, according to Pham Khanh Phong Lan, head of Ho Chi Minh City’s food safety management board.
Nguyen Kieu Giang, the representative of the eatery chain, said that “the strange ingredients” are simply salt, sugar and seasoning powder, which are common spices to enhance the spicy sauces, bought from “prestigious providers” with full documents.
Giang explained that the eatery has to store a large number of these ingredients at the inspected venue since it is the main kitchen, which will “supply [the ingredients] to four other Kieu Giang restaurants for use in two to three weeks.”
Only four out of the seven outlets of the Kieu Giang chain used the same ingredients in question.
According to Giang, the ingredients were made in a secret formula, “so the staff [at the store] do not know how to prepare them.”
That is why they were all prepared in advance, packed in plastic bags and noted with specific names as an instruction for the eatery attendants to use, Giang underlined.
The representative added that Kieu Giang has proactively asked Ho Chi Minh City’s food safety management board to take samples of its “strange substances” for testing.
Commenting on Tuesday’s inspection, Giang said the eatery meets 25 out of 29 criteria.
“We admit that we violated the regulations regarding employee dress code and kitchen sanitation,” she added.
“But we have confidence in the quality of our products, which are not made from any ingredients that are not allowed to be used in food as per the law,” the owner strongly asserted.