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Man jailed in Ho Chi Minh City’s first food safety violation trial

Friday, November 01, 2019, 15:50 GMT+7
Man jailed in Ho Chi Minh City’s first food safety violation trial
Bui Van Sang stands trial in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City on November 1, 2019. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

The owner of a food processing facility in Ho Chi Minh City has been jailed for ordering his employees to soak vegetables in harmful chemicals to keep them fresh, the first time an offender of food safety regulations has been criminally prosecuted and brought to trial in the city.

Bui Van Sang, 36, stood his trial at the People’s Court in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City on Friday morning.

He was eventually sentenced to one year and six months in prison for “violating regulations on food safety.”

This is the first time such an offender has been indicted and trialed in Ho Chi Minh City, where food safety violations are rampant.

According to the indictment, police officers caught Sang ordering his employees to “clean” a large volume of vegetables by soaking them in sodium sulfate and sodium dithionite on April 13, 2018.

The harmful chemicals are banned from use in food processing in Vietnam in accordance with a Ministry of Health circular.

Sang ran an unlicensed agro-processing facility in Tam Binh Ward, Thu Duc District.

Court documents showed that the man had employed three people to wash carrots and radishes before delivering the “cleaned” vegetables to his clients, who are merchants at the Thu Duc Agriculture Wholesale Market, since November 2017.

Sang soaks carrots in chemicals at his facility in Thu Duc District during a crime scene reconstruction. Photo: Nhan Hau / Tuoi Tre

Bui Van Sang soaks carrots in chemicals at his facility in Thu Duc District during a crime scene reconstruction. Photo: Nhan Hau / Tuoi Tre

The employees were directed to soak the veggies in the banned chemicals so that they could stay fresh and have a nice color.

About 7-8 metric tons of carrots and radishes was cleaned at Sang’s facility every day using this method, police found.

Sang offered his service at VND500 (US$0.02) for each kilogram of vegetables washed and delivered, thus earning about VND3.5-4 million ($151-172) daily.

Following a raid on the establishment last year, officers confiscated about 3.1 metric tons of carrots and radishes that had been washed with the chemicals, as well as 250 grams of sodium sulfate and sodium dithionite powder. 

The case was then transferred to the police unit in Thu Duc District.

Aside from the jail term, the municipal People’s Committee previously imposed a VND5 million ($215) fine upon Sang for running his facility without a permit.

He was also fined VND178 million ($7,680) for discharging untreated wastewater into the environment.

Vietnamese prosecutors face huge hurdles in bringing violators of food safety regulations to court because the current Penal Code requires evidence that the violation results in “consequences” to public health for the offender to be criminally charged, according to legal experts consulted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

It is therefore extremely rare for violators of food safety regulations to be criminally charged in Vietnam.

A report from the Ho Chi Minh City management committee for food safety showed that nearly 500 facilities were caught breaking such regulations in the first six months of this year.

The violators were slapped with fines totaling about VND7 billion ($302,000) but none of them were criminally investigated.

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