Food safety in everyday life: Shopping for vegetables in a rural city in Vietnam

Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, Gert Spaargaren and Sietze Vellema conducted a research with the aim to investigate how Vietnamese citizens in their everyday lives are confronting the health risks and other side effects related to the consumption of fresh vegetables.

Concerns about food safety influence the way in which Vietnamese consumers confront the question of where, how and from whom they buy their fresh vegetables. In this paper we analyze in what manner and to what extent existing shopping practices inhibit the adoption of modern retail based food safety strategies. Using a social practices theory based approach; we analyze in detail the sales practices of sellers and the purchasing practices of consumers in a Vietnamese provincial city.

This study reveals how both sellers and buyers in wet-markets, Asian style fresh food markets, apply different sets of skills and knowledge, based on locality, personal contacts and private judgment, to match supply and demand in the context of food safety threats. Within the everyday practice of shopping for vegetables, trust is shown to be continuously reproduced along pre-given lines.

Consumers do not easily look outside or move beyond their existing routines even when food safety concerns would urge them to do so. From these findings we conclude that in situations where wet-markets serve as the dominant channel for distributing and purchasing fresh food, the efficacy of government and retail induced food safety strategies depends on their articulation within existing food purchasing routines of Vietnamese consumers.

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Constrained consumer practices and food safety concerns in Hanoi

What explains the persistence of vegetable shopping at street markets even while they do not offer formal food safety guarantees in Hanoi? Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, Sietze Vellema and Gert Spaargaren, with support of Fresh Studio Team, conducted a practice-based research in order to understand the motivation and constraints of consumers relating to their daily vegetable purchase practices.

Food safety is a widely recognized concern in Vietnam. Public officials, companies and consumers find different ways to address risks of pesticide residues and bacterial contamination related to the use of fresh vegetables in daily diets. The response of the government to these food safety risks includes the modernization and regulation of the food retail system. However, reforms that aim to offer a controlled and predictable provision of fresh vegetables through supermarkets seem to contrast with the daily consumer practices in a dynamic city as Hanoi; over 95% of vegetables is still being purchased at long-established open-air markets, importantly the informal and unhygienic street markets. Using a practices theory approach, this paper aims to explain this persistence of street-market shopping for vegetables.

Detailed accounts of consumer practices, case studies at different retailing sites and daily logbooks of consumers demonstrate that the way consumers cope with food safety risks is largely shaped by the temporal and spatial constraints of their daily shopping practices.

We identified how vegetable shopping is either enjoyed as social interaction within the local community or is regarded a time-consuming activity that conflicts with other activities in everyday life. Our findings indicate how these constraints constitute a reinforcing mechanism for the persistence of uncontrolled and unhygienic street markets.

To make policy responses to food safety risks both more realistic and effective, it is essential to connect to and accommodate the daily realities of consumers managing time and space in a modernizing city rather than to impose an ideal, typical market exclusively driven by the wish to control food safety risks.

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Food Safety – Mission Possible?

HCMC – Fresh Studio gave a presentation during a joint-event of the EuroCham Food Agri Aqua Business Sector Committee (FAASC) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

The recently established Food, Agri, Aqua Business sector committee (FAASC) under the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in Vietnam, organized in close cooperation with the Royal Netherlands Embassy a successful event titled: Food safety – Mission Possible?

Over 150 participants from both the private and public sector discussed how to improve food safety across the agriculture chain.

Public sector
The vision of the FAASC on this theme was presented by the director of De Heus, Mr. Gabor Fluit. In his presentation he emphasized the urgent need to develop a central agency in Vietnam for food safety control. Currently, food safety issues are managed by different agencies which belong to various ministries. This current structure makes it difficult to respond efficiently and quickly in times of emergency (e.g. food poisoning). Also, it limits export possibilities for local producers, since importing countries require high standards in this area. Mr. Ron Dwinger, a representative of the Dutch Food Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), shared in his presentation the history and experiences in the Netherlands of developing a centralized food safety authority. This was a process of more than 30 years, in which different organizations were merged.

The presentation invoked a lot of questions and discussion from the various representatives from Vietnamese ministries and food safety control authorities.

Private sector
Presentations from the private sector showed what could be done in the field to improve food safety in agro-chains.

Siebe van Wijk, Managing Director of Fresh Studio, shared various experiences of Dutch public private sector funded projects, in which through cooperation between Vietnam and the Netherlands food safety was improved considerably.

In the final presentation, Mrs. Ina Enting of the Holland Pig Association presented a new initiative in which both the Vietnamese and Dutch public and private sector will cooperate closely to improve food safety in the Vietnamese pork sector.

For more information about FAASC: Fresh Studio Co-founder of FAASC or Eurochamvn/FAASC

Source: Eurocham Vietnam & Holland in VietnamAlso interesting to read:

Fresh Studio presents developments in food safety standards and the role of supermarkets in Asia

HCMC – The 9th and 10th of October 2013, the International Finance Cooperation (IFC) will organize a business roundtable for firms in the agribusiness sector. Fresh Studio is invited to speak.

The business roundtable focusses on opportunities for firms who are interested to build sustainable supply chains with smallholder farmers.

During the roundtable agribusinesses firms, financial institutions, training practitioners, donors and other experts will share and discuss their experiences with innovative business models which promote sustainability and food security.

Fresh Studio’s managing director, Siebe van Wijk will give a presentation about the latest developments in food standards in Vietnam and the role of supermarkets.

Want to know more about the Siebe van Wijk’s presentation follow us on LinkedIn and website.Also interesting to read: