With half of its total population of nearly 100 million people under the age of 30 years old, Vietnam has seen a strong surge in food and beverage consumption, making it an attractive market for food producers, importers and retailers. However, a number of high-profile food safety events in recent years have raised awareness about food safety issues among Vietnam’s consumers, making safety and hygiene critical factors in their food purchasing decisions.
Hiep Nguyen serves as the Assistant Business Development Manager for TÜV SÜD’s new state-of-the-art food testing laboratory in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Hiep received his Bachelor’s degree in Food and Food Processing Technology from Ho Chi Minh Industrial University, and initially worked to support the distribution of safe food and wine products in supermarkets throughout Vietnam. Since joining TÜV SÜD in 2013, he has advanced the importance of food auditing, inspection and testing services in his country, and his efforts have helped to make food safer for millions of Vietnamese consumers.
Hiep recently spoke with Food & Health E-ssentials about his experience in the food industry, the food safety challenges faced by producers, importers and retailers in Vietnam, and how TÜV SÜD is supporting Vietnam’s effort to bring safe food products to markets around the world.
Food & Health E-ssentials: Could you tell us about your position and the scope of your responsibilities at TÜV SÜD in Vietnam?
Nguyen Hiep: Sure! I’m the assistant manager of business development for Food, Health & Beauty for TÜV SÜD Vietnam, and am responsible for the sales and marketing activities related to our certification, testing and inspection services for these products.
F&HE: How did you begin your career in the food industry, and what was your food industry experience prior to joining TÜV SÜD?
NH: I originally worked for several food distribution companies where I gained extensive experience in food distribution and food supply chain management. Then, before joining TÜV SÜD in 2013, I worked for a global testing organisation, serving as a sales executive for consumer testing services here in Vietnam. That experience introduced me to the testing, certification and inspection side of the business.
F&HE: How have food safety practices in Vietnam changed over the past decade? What improvements have you seen?
NH: Every year, food manufacturers here achieve significant progress in improving overall food safety practices. Now, most food exporting companies have an awareness of the importance of food safety, and have adopted one or more schemes, for example, HACCP, BRC, IFS, Global GAP, etc., to address and monitor food safety issues in their operations.
F&HE: On the other side, what are some of the ongoing areas of risk regarding food safety practices that compromise the quality and safety of food products?
NH: At present, the greatest risks that I encounter are controlling levels of antibiotics found in aquaculture products such as pangasius fish and shrimp, and pesticide residues in agricultural products like vegetables, cereals, pepper and tea. Looking into the future, I anticipate that food manufacturers will place strict controls foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and controlling the risks associated with food packaging and food contact materials.
F&HE: In your experience, what other food safety issues should producers, importers and retailers consider in their operations?
NH: In my opinion, producers, importers and retailers should consider adopting “inspection during production” (DuPro) and traceability programs to assess and verify the quality of processing systems and procedures employed by their supply chain partners. Such an approach can also help to support traceability efforts, especially for seafood products.
F&HE: If you can, briefly describe for us the regulatory process applicable to food and beverage products placed on the market in Vietnam.
NH: In general, food products imported or sold in markets and food retailers in Vietnam must comply with the provisions of the Law on Food Safety (FSL) which details responsibilities of vendors to ensure food safety, as well as packaging and labelling requirements. All imported food products, ingredients and additives are subject to inspection for compliance with these requirements prior to entry into Vietnam.
F&HE: Please describe for us how food safety audits by qualified third-parties can contribute to the safety of food and beverage products.
NH: Food safety audits help to support your company’s commitment to the quality, safety and security of your food products. It demonstrates that you are fully transparent regarding your food production resources and processes. Food safety audits also underscore your commitment to sustainability, and can serve to increase employee motivation and customer satisfaction.
F&HE: TÜV SÜD recently opened an advanced food safety testing facility in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. What specific testing capabilities are available there?
NH: Our new food safety testing facility is equipped to conduct more than 200 different chemical and microbiologic tests on food products and additives, covering the full range of substances subject to testing.
F&HE: What other food testing, auditing and service capabilities does TÜV SÜD provide in Vietnam?
NH: TUV SUD has an extensive network of facilities, auditors and inspectors throughout South and Southeast Asia, including testing laboratories in India, Thailand, Shanghai, Hong Kong. This capacity enables us to work with supply chain partners based in these countries, and provides additional expertise and backup support for our services in Vietnam.
F&HE: Finally, how can TÜV SÜD help food producers in their efforts to bring safe food products to the Vietnam market?
NH: Our testing facility in Ho Chi Minh City can provide a full range of testing services for most types of food, health and beauty products. Our local auditors are qualified to conduct audits for compliance with ISO 22000, HACCP and GMP requirements, while our extensive auditor network can additionally address BRC and FSSC audits. And our inspection efforts, which already cover seafood and cereal inspection as well.