The incident had significant consequences on his restaurant. The number of victims with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and high fever gradually increased from 40 people to more than 400.
Although it is a high quality restaurant with professionally trained kitchen staff, it nevertheless fell victim to such an unfortunate situation.
I have no intention of comparing this high-end establishment to Phuong, a local bakery in Hoi An, as the difference in standard is so clear.
The fact is that food poisoning can happen anywhere, not just at street food stalls. Like many other travelers, I often visit renowned restaurants to enjoy the local dining experience rather than just satisfy my hunger.
For example, Taiwan has a chain of restaurants with famous traditional dishes.
I have traveled extensively from the north to the south of Taiwan to enjoy the food at these restaurants while researching dim sum.
Anyone visiting for the first time will be enchanted by the traditional ambiance, professional staff and culinary expertise.
The successful owner, once a food technologist, has brilliantly integrated scientific standards into traditional cuisine, earning a Michelin star for his downtown Taipei establishment.
I firmly believe that long-standing restaurants, like the dim sum restaurants in Taiwan and the bakery in Hoi An, have their unique culinary techniques and preservation methods.
It’s no coincidence that for 34 years, Hoi An Bakery has served millions of meals to locals and tourists.
However, trust is fragile and can be broken at any time, as recent food poisoning incidents have shown.
Having worked in kitchens for a long time, I have observed that every tourist season, restaurateurs find themselves reactively faced with a shortage of staff, which results in the hiring of less qualified people.
As you walk through restaurants, it becomes apparent that unsafe practices are common and, unfortunately, largely ignored.
Fast food establishments serve a considerable number of customers and the risk of infection from a single source is high.
Factors contributing to diet-related illnesses can range from poor quality ingredients, insects and pets near food, and improper cooking techniques.
These problems often arise from human negligence due to concern or failure to comply with safety standards.
The case of Phuong Bakery in Hoi An illustrates a large-scale food poisoning incident resulting from sloppy processing at fast food establishments.
According to the Health Department of Quang Nam province, a total of 3,600 people ate bread from this bakery over two days last month. Among them, 313 people, including 103 foreigners, contracted salmonella from contaminated pork, lettuce and other vegetables.
The pork was processed at the store after being purchased at the Hoi An market, while the vegetables were simply cleaned and not soaked in salt as they should have been.
Vietnam is a culinary paradise with diverse street food options.
Seeking to make the country the “Cuisine of the World” is a wise and achievable goal, which will give a boost to its tourism industry.
However, to attract tourists, safety must precede taste.
To ensure safety, regulatory authorities should strictly monitor street food outlets, as well as how they issue driving licenses.
Staff in these establishments should undergo regular knowledge checks, passing which should be mandatory to remain in service.
Unfortunately, this aspect has been neglected in the Vietnamese street food scene.
Restaurant owners have the right to hire whoever they want, regardless of their skill level.
I attended food safety training sessions, but they often seemed ritualistic and lacked serious investment in instilling the importance of food safety discipline.
These trainees are essential links in food preparation and are also potential agents of food poisoning if not properly trained.
Investing in processing knowledge and technology as well as staff training will help restaurants control food safety risks.
But training, maintaining and monitoring established standards must be daily efforts to significantly reduce incidents.
Whether in high-end restaurants or street food stalls, minimizing health risks is essential.
As Vietnam aspires to become the “Cuisine of the World”, incessant efforts are needed, on a daily basis, not only to improve the quality of restaurant service, but also to preserve the attractiveness of the Vietnamese tourism sector.
*Nguyen Manh Hung is a chef and cookbook author.