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Poor Storage Of Local Tuna Might Be Cause Vietnamese Tuna Poisoning

Ho Chi Minh City shoppers continue to buy cheap local tuna, despite warnings that the fish might have poisoned hundreds of workers last week.

At Tan Thuan Market in District 7 on Sunday afternoon, female workers jostled to buy ageing fish that omitted an unpleasant odor.

Most of the booths sold tuna, which was selling better than freshwater fish because it’s cheaper, according to the buyers.

Nhung, a garment worker at Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone, said tuna sells at VND30,000 (US$1.69) a kilo, while other kinds of freshwater fish sells at VND40,000 a kilo.

She said she was buying because it was cheap, and she also liked tuna’s flavor better than other fish. She said tuna-based marinades could be reused on other dishes to save even more money.

At Linh Trung and Tam Binh markets in Thu Duc District, booths selling tuna were still crowded throughout the week. Workers from nearby factories were buying up the saltwater fish even after news spread that tuna was suspected of causing hundreds of food poisonings at four factories in the city last week.

Something fishy

On Thursday, nearly 350 shoe factory workers at Minh Nghe Commerce Company in Thu Duc District and Thuong Thang Company in Binh Chanh District were hospitalized after eating tuna for lunch.

Another 76 workers from Vi An Company in Tan Phu District and My Hao Company in Binh Tan District were hospitalized on Friday for the same reason, Lao Dong newspaper reported.

City health officials have since said that tuna was the prime suspect for the poisonings.

On Saturday, local agencies took tuna samples from three booths at the Binh Dien wholesale market, which had supplied the tuna to the factory lunchrooms, for testing.

The officials ordered those booths to close and limited trading at other vendors until the test results were conclusive.

On the same day, the HCMC Health Department sent an urgent notice to the city Department of Education and Training, the city Export Processing and Industrial Zones Authority and district administrations, advising them not to serve tuna in their cafeterias.

Cold fish

Tran Van Linh, director of Thuan Phuoc Seafood and Trade Company in the central city of Da Nang, told Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper that tuna quality was always worse during the hotter months of the year as frozen fish can melt and go bad more easily.

“When tuna is not frozen properly, protein in the meat degrades, producing more histamine, which causes bad physical reactions in people,” Linh said.

A large amount of histamine could be poisonous, Linh said, adding that seafood importers require that the levels of histamine in their products be minimized.

Histamines form in many kinds of sea fish after the fish die and are present even after the fish is well-cooked, he said.

Huynh Le Thai Hoa, head of food safety and hygiene at the HCMC Health Department, told Lao Dong that factory food providers often don’t care about the quality of their ingredients as they have to keep things as cheap as VND 8,000 a portion.

“If tuna is left unfrozen for just a few hours, toxins in the flesh will increase very fast,” said Hoa.

Tuna has not been banned, but it should only be bought in good condition at safe and hygienic markets, Lao Dong quoted Hoa as saying.