Many Chinese pickled and dried plums, recently detected by their home authorities as containing cancer-causing additives and chemicals, are being sold in Ho Chi Minh City’s markets.
At a booth that sells Chinese dried and pickled plums in a HCM City market. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Chinese media coverage has reported that pickled and dried peaches, plums, and many other fruits produced by three renowned local manufacturers have been found to contain huge amounts of additives such as saccharin and sodium cyclamate sweeteners; carmine and amaranth coloring; and sulfur dioxide whitener.
The amount of additives found in the plums is three time higher than the allowed level, Chinese media reported.
Health experts said sodium cyclamate can turn into an extremely toxic substance that can cause cancer, while sulfur dioxide can combine with vitamin B1 to damage consumers’ brain, lungs, and liver.
Chemicals like carmine, amaranth, or saccharin can also be dangerous if more than the allowed content is consumed.
While the detection of such toxic products has caused a stir in China, what deserves more concern is that the cancer-causing plums can easily be found on shelves without packages and labels, and are sold by the kilo in Vietnam.
No label, no packaging
At the wholesale markets around HCMC, pickled plums are stored in 10-kg cartons with only one label showing their name and price. No information about the products’ manufacturers, origins, or expiry dates can be found.
“Those selling these products know for sure where they come from only by glancing at the prices, so there is no need for a label,” says Minh, a small trader in Binh Tay market.
“As much as 70 – 80 percent of plums being marketed are Chinese products as it’s not easy to find their domestic counterparts in the markets.
“Most local plum manufacturers provide careful and appropriate packaging to their products, which are distributed via retailing channels rather than wholesale markets,” continues Minh.
But the main reason for their popularity, Minh adds, is that Chinese plums are always cheaper than domestic products.
Chinese pickled plums cost VND80-100,000 a kilogram, while locally-made products are sold at VND120,000 a kilogram.
“We traders only sell what can bring greater profits.
“We don’t care where the products come from,” says Minh.
Similarly, poorly-packed plums are also flooding into An Dong, Ben Thanh, and Ba Chieu markets.
Though there is not a single piece of information about the products’ origins and manufacturers, all traders confirm that they come from China.
Expiry dates are only displayed on the carton when the products are imported in batches. However, as traders later divide them into smaller cartons for sale, it does not matter if they put on an expiry date for the product or not.
“Traders can write whatever dates they want on the cartons, so what’s the point of doing so?” they say.
T, an official of the HCMC Market Management Agency, says that dried and pickled plums are categorized as a food commodity, and are thus required to obtain food safety and hygiene certification to be eligible for circulation.
However, the unsafe products still manage to enter the Vietnamese market.
“There is no such product imported via the seaports in HCMC,” a municipal customs official says.
“This means Chinese plums are transported to Vietnam via the border gates with China in the northern provinces.”
“It’s not easy to provide customs inspection on products transported that way.”