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  • wen liao 3:31 pm on November 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bangladesh, china, food adulteration, formaldehyde, formalin, , Vietnam   

    Week 7–Something Fishy about the Seafood Industry: Watch out on What You Eat! 

    Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States has been alerted that detectable amount of formaldehyde (which is known to the public as “formalin”) contaminated frozen fish was found at national grocery retailers in Greensboro, North Carolina. Usually, some fish species naturally contain a trace level of formaldehyde as one product of their metabolites. However, this metabolic product is produced in such small amount that it is considered undetectable. The laboratory confirmed formaldehyde positive result of these frozen fish indicated that formaldehyde has been intentionally added. It is later discovered that these formaldehyde contaminated fish products were originated from China and Vietnam.

    Formaldehyde, which is not commonly used in North America, is rather routinely exploited as a perseverative for fish in some Asian countries. Research (Sotelo et al., 1995) has shown that formaldehyde can prevent fish protein denaturation during frozen storage, keeping the flesh fresh for a much longer time. This is ideal for long distance shipping and trading—for instance, exporting fish and fish products from Asia to North America.

    In addition, this is not the first and only time that fish and fish products that originate in China and Vietnam are formaldehyde contaminated. In 2013, however, formaldehyde was also identified from frozen fish products in grocery stores in Raleigh, NC, according to Food Safety News (2013). These formaldehyde contaminated fish also originated from China and Vietnam, and they constitute up to 25% of the entire seafood imports from these two countries.

    Moreover, besides China and Vietnam, other Asian countries also have issues with formaldehyde application to seafood and fishery industry. Bangladesh (Rahman et al., 2015) for example, has long been suffering from formaldehyde adulteration on their fish products. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (Liteplo, 2002), fish products have naturally occurring formaldehyde found in their flesh that ranges from 1 to 20mg/kg fish. However, the mean formaldehyde concentration in locally harvested fish in Bangladesh was 118.6mg/kg fish, about 6 times higher then the suggested value by WHO. This data strongly indicates that formaldehyde was intentionally added to the fishes, as unprocessed fish would not contain formaldehyde in such high concentration.

    The health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure are complicated. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI, 2010) short-term health effects from formaldehyde exposure include watery eyes, nausea, skin irritation, and etc. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can significantly increase the chance of getting cancer. Especially, it can increase the risks of acquiring leukemia and brain tumor.

    Although not as frequently reported as other food safety related concerns, formaldehyde adulteration in fish and fish products is still a potential threat to public health. Its occurrence might be relatively rare, but its complication can be devastating. Especially in Asian countries, where the population density is high but the economical development is low, limited public resources can make the treatment of formaldehyde exposure hard. Therefore, it is essential that the governments of corresponding countries take serious responsibility, carefully monitor their food production systems, making sure no unqualified products slip through.

    • Sotelo, C., Pineiro, C., & Perezmartin, R. (1995). denaturation of fish proteins during frozen storage – role of formaldehyde. Zeitschrift Fur Lebensmittel-Untersuchung Und-Forschung, 200(1), 14-23.
    • Imports and Exports: How Safe is Seafood From Foreign Sources? | Food Safety News. (2013, November 10). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/imports-and-exports-how-safe-is-seafood-from-foreign-sources/#.ViQNtyBViko
    • Rahman, S., Majumder, M., Ahasan, R., Ahmed, S., Das, P., & Rahman, N. (2015). The extent and magnitude of formalin adulteration in fish sold in domestic markets of Bangladesh: A literature review. International Journal of Consumer Studies. doi:10.1111/ijcs.12238
    • International Program on Chemical Safety, Liteplo, R. G., & W. H. Organization, (2006). Concise international chemical assessment document, number 40: Formaldehyde World Health Organization (WHO).
    • Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk. (2011, June 10). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/formaldehyde/formaldehyde-fact-sheet

    • shinnie 12:43 pm on November 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Wow, people are definitely creative when it comes to preserving foods. I know formaldehyde is commonly used to preserve dead organisms or specimens, but it is shocking to learn that industries would go this far in extent to use a chemical that is known to be highly toxic to humans to prolong the shelf-life of their products. I did a bit of research on formaldehyde regulations in Canada and it appears that our government acknowledges there may be residual levels of formaldehyde in inactivated veterinary vaccines (particularly bacterins), not much about formaldehyde adulteration relating to seafood and fishery industry though! They are also commonly used to produce resins and fertilizers in Canada. CFIA recommended methods to test for formaldehyde include: acetyl acetone titration, ferric chloride titration and the basic fuchsin test.

      • mustafa akhtar 1:57 pm on November 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        i wonder how protein denaturation would occur by freezing. From my understanding, it would have to be a strong compound to break the di-sulfide bonds in the protein structure. Can someone elaborate exactly how the protein structure is affected by freezing?

        • wen liao 7:54 pm on November 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          1. To put it simple: large ice crystals will form inside the cell during freezing, especially during slow freezing process. These ice crystals are so large that they will break the cellular membrane structure of the cells, causing destruction of the cellular structure and leaking of cellular components, which might result subsequent degradation of muscle protein…
          2. freezer burn

    • amreenj 1:57 pm on November 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It is scary to think that individuals may be consuming formaldehyde without even knowing it! This article goes to show the extreme lengths that people in the food industry may go to increase the shelf life of products. With the expansion of food trade to a global level, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid such preservatives in our foods. As mentioned in the post the exposure to these chemicals (ie. formaldehyde) can have serious and significant impacts on ones health. I think that the government needs to have stricter rules when it comes to internationally imported foods as well as with the liberal use of preservatives. Each country has different laws and regulations regarding the use of preservatives/ chemicals and we should make sure that these rules align with our country’s as well.

    • catherine wong 2:48 pm on November 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is quite surprising that some people would actually use formaldehyde on food products that are to be consumed. I remember in my high school biology class where we were dissecting pigs and the pigs were preserved with formaldehyde. The formaldehyde on the pigs had a really strong distinct odour so I wonder if the cooking masked the smell so people would not know what was in it while eating. I also agree that since formaldehyde has such serious impacts on health such as the risk of cancer through long term exposure, the government should think about setting stricter regulations and testing in imported products. Setting regulations is hard and would probably take years but would be necessary to prevent such high levels of formaldehyde contaminated food products from being consumed and harming people.

    • laurenrappaport 11:04 pm on November 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s shocking to see what some people are using for the preservation of food! Especially when the longterm health effects are linked to cancer. Although this has not really been seen in North America, with all of the international trade that occurs in the food industry, it should be of major concern to everyone. I did not even think that a compound like this could be used as a preservative in food and that industries would use it knowing the negative health implications. I think that strict government regulations should be in place to test products for formaldehyde. As this compound naturally occurs in fish, it is important to test the levels to ensure the products are not further contaminated with formaldehyde to unsafe levels.

    • Silvia Low 8:35 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Well this is scary. I really hope that our CFIA/import inspection authorities are careful in what they allow into our food chain. It makes me wonder how they even detected the formaldehyde in the first place. Did customers complain of a different taste, or were they getting sick? Or did they just decide to one day inspect their fish products specifically for formaldehyde? It’s just such a random substance to test for in food.

    • MarinaMoon 11:40 am on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s really scary what people would do just to make profit out of the products. There should be more strict regulations to restrict formaldehyde as well as other toxic products from being used as preservatives. What is the point of preserving food when it will result in negative consequences to people who consume them. This article indicates how food industries are more concerned about the presentation of the product than the benefits of the product to human health. Thus, we should take more consideration into what goes into the products that we will be consuming and also be ware that not all foods that has passed the inspection are safe to consume. On the brighter side, at least the researchers have identified the issue and hopefully would make amendments to prevent further use of formaldehyde as a preservative.

    • NorrisHuang 3:51 pm on December 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I guess it is not that easy to detect formaldehyde in fish by tasting or smelling because fish (especially for imported/frozen fish as they are not as fresh) has this “fishy smell” which may mask the formaldehyde. Therefore it is really necessary to have strict government regulations regarding the permitted level of preservatives in fish. And I guess one way to avoid eating contaminated fish is to try eat local?

    • teewong 2:44 pm on December 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      First of all, you’ve got a very creative title, i like it a lot. I must say though, i am not surprised to hear about the extent that people will go about the methods in preserving food products. Unless someone really points out that certain food contains a certain hazardous chemical, we wouldn’t really second think about what types of dangerous chemicals we are consuming. Speaking from personal experience, sometimes when i feel a little bit nauseous or when i have a tiny migraine/headache, i would blame the lack of sleep or the amount of stress i’m going through. Never would I think it would be the food that is causing me to react in such ways. From now on, I will be more careful about the food I eat and i’ll be taking down notes for maybe when I seem to have reactions towards the food i consumed.

    • EmilyLi 9:07 pm on December 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is very interesting. I like that this article brought up the chemical agent that affect food safety, which gets less spotlight than more of the bacterial pathogens. As mentioned above, I too am not surprise to know that people would go as far as using hazardous chemical to preserve the foods. I guess this way they would be able to keep the fish meat in a better conditions, so consumers would be more willing to pay a higher price for them. However, many would not know that the expensive fish they buy would contain chemical that could harm them. Also even with the symptoms mention in the article there could be more complications that may not be discover yet. In my opinion, to limit the use of hazardous chemical in food would be having the government to set regulations as well as efficiently reinforcing them.

    • AngeliMalimban 9:17 pm on December 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is terrible to know that there are places in Asia that keep these practices in place. It makes me wonder how stringent the policies or the food inspectors of these respective countries are. I should be glad to live in Canada, where most of the fish is local or at least made within Canada (salmon, tuna, cod). Are there any other ways that fish imported from Asia last the long haul through to North America, Europe… etc?

    • EmilyChow 3:43 am on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I can’t believe producers would add formaldehyde to products that people consume! In terms of food safety, it must be difficult to test for so many different contaminants and additives for all foods that are imported from foreign countries, but it’s important to find an effective method that tests for most contaminants efficiently. If formaldehyde-added fish is able to make its way to North American grocery shelves, then it makes me wonder what other contaminated foods are in grocery stores that we are not aware of.

  • EmilyLi 1:50 am on October 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bread, , , , Vietnam   

    “Banh mi” in Vietnam 



    Recently, on Oct. 20th 2015, there was a Salmonella outbreak in the Quang Binh province, which located in the north- central coast of Vietnam. The outbreak affected 224 local people, who showed symptoms such as stomach ache, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. The Salmonella bacteria were found in “Banh mi” supplied by the “Vuong Tien Thanh Bakery”. “Banh mi” is a Vietnamese snack introduce by the French during the Colonial Period. It consisted of a baguette, usually filled with variety of meats, pickled vegetables and chili peppers.


    According to the Quang Binh province Hygiene and Food Safety department, samples taken from the bakery and the contents of the victims’ stomach both tested positive for the bacteria Salmonella. Most of the consumer infected with Salmonella developed symptoms within 72 hours and rushed to the local hospital. This was the biggest case of food poisoning seen in the province.


    About a week prior to the detection of Salmonella bacteria in “Banh mi”, the bakery had supplied bread to “Tan Phat Sport Company”. 20 of the worker. who consumed the bread suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.  “Vuong Tien Thanh Bakery” had five branches, which 3 were suspended after the incident.


    A little background in Vietnamese food culture and the snack food item “Banh mi”. “Banh mi” from the journal article “An Outbreak of Foodborne Salmonellosis Linked to Bread Takeaway Shop in Ben Tre City, Vietnam” was referred as stuff bread. In the article it was mention that in 2013 media reported multiple incidents where people had been hospitalized with acute gastroenteritis due to consumption of stuffed bread. They found that “Banh mi” usually included the ingredients pork bologna, pork pate, salted and dried pork and raw egg mayonnaise. Many of these items were found to have Salmonella species as well as E. coli growing.  Most of the stuff breads were brought from street food stalls and vendors. At these vendors poor hygiene was found: some had cooked food and raw food place very close together, some had cooked food kept at room temperature for long period of time.


    Vietnam is a lower middle income country, where development and industrialization are still taken place. The food culture there is still very traditional, which comprised of traditional foods with traditional methods of making the food. Traditional practices of preparing the food are not necessary food safe or hygienic. Vietnam is also one of the Asian countries known for its delicious and inexpensive street food. To regulate and improve food safety laws for street food vendors in Vietnam, in 2011 laws were passed providing guidelines on operating street food stalls.


    The guidelines are:street-food-vendor

    1. Stall must be away from polluted place.
    2. Clean water must be used to cook and clean kitchen utensils
    3. Origin of the produce used to make food must be clear
    4. Vendors must have a waste collection system in place
    5. Vendors can only make use of a specific list of additives


    Many other Asian countries are also known for the inexpensive and impressive variety street foods. What would be your opinion on regulation on street food? How can we blend traditional practices with modern implications?


    Thank you so much for your time.

    Emily L. 


    Reference links:






    • cvalencia 10:25 am on October 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is interesting since I’ve always wondered how safe the street food are in countries such as China, Vietnam, and in the Philippines. Having grown up in the Philippines, my parents didn’t allow me to buy food from street vendors as the safety of the food they sell is questionable. In my knowledge, there hasn’t been a report of an outbreak associated with street foods there, probably only because of poor reporting and monitoring strategies in place. My parents once contracted Hepatitis A from eating street food, so they are extra careful in letting us, their children, consume any of these foods. Great current events article!

    • csontani 3:55 pm on October 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is very interesting to read since I’ve never actually read a news regarding outbreaks in many Asian countries. I grew up in Indonesia where the street foods are famous for being really good but dirty, and I think that food safety is not a big deal in those kind of countries. I wonder if street food vendors can really follow the guidelines, especially for number 1 since it is quite hard to have a food stall on the side of the road and trying to avoid the pollution, unless they have more budget to invest more for their business. I really think that the government should manage their food safety regulation better to prevent more outbreaks especially in countries where they have inexpensive and “dirty” foods.

    • meggyli 9:39 pm on October 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with the charms of street food. Even though we all know that it’s relatively unhygienic, there is just something about street food, such as in night markets, that attracts us. Theoretically speaking street vendors should be making the food in a completely enclosed area with the exception of a pass-through window to hand out the food to prevent contamination of food. However in all my summer evenings at night markets here and in China alike I find that very few street vendors are actually following these regulations, and I have also seen some unsafe food practices and/or food handling as well. Personally I think street food is a cultural trademark and should be maintained as such. As for the safety and quality regulations for street food I think it is challenging to control the premises while keeping the costs down. Instead, it should be based on a mutual trust and understanding between customer and vendor: the vendor should not sell contaminated, spoiled, or adulterated foods to customers; and the customers should trust that the food vendors are selling are safe to eat. Environmental Health Officers may want to inspect these places more frequently and be given the authority to shut down a street vendor that practices unsafe food handling.

    • dgozali 10:30 pm on October 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Very interesting read! Growing up in south east asia, street food was part of my daily life and I’ve definitely witnessed some unhygienic practices in some stalls. Nevertheless, people would still consume street food as it is usually seen as the authentic cuisine of that country. Especially for tourists, in order to have a complete experience, they would often give the local street food a try. Because of this i think that it is becoming increasingly important to maintain a standard of food safety in street food stalls. Although it may be difficult to implement in the beginning, it is a step that must be done.

    • TamaraRitchie 8:38 am on October 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I think food is an important part of many cultures. If too harsh regulations, guidelines and fees were put in places for street vendors it may cause some people to decide not to cook their foods. Although it is important to have some food safety precautions in order. When consuming street food there is automatically more chance for cross contamination due to the area in which the food is being cooked. I think the main issues is when travelers go to these regions and eat the street food and become sick. For locals who eat the food semi-regularly would be less likely to become sick from the food because their bodies are use to consuming it. When travelers consume the same foods their stomachs are not accustomed to it and could become sick. I believe it should be a personal choice as to weather you eat at food carts/street vendors.

    • mustafa akhtar 10:23 am on October 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with Tamara – Street food seems to be an important part of Vietnamese culture. Too many regulations would only deter such vendors. I think change needs to come from the supply side and not from the vendors. Regulations such as use of sanitary practices at the farm would benefit more in the sense that it would target the root of the problem.

    • carissarli 12:41 am on November 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I experienced food poisoning when I was a child. I remember eating street food in my home town and the hygiene there wasn’t good at all since I recall insects flying around the food but I didn’t really care about that because the food just attracted me! I had a severe stomachache and diarrhea afterwards and it was a nightmare. My parents did not bring me to the hospital so I am not sure what bacteria was acting on me. I also think getting the regulations straight cannot really help on improving the hygiene because they don’t have an indoor area that protect their food from getting infected. I will suggest the Food Safety Department from Vietnam to increase the inspection and supervision on street food vendors in order to remind them to improve their food hygiene.

    • KristinaRichmond 4:46 pm on November 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree that street food is culturally important, but maybe some simple practices could be implemented to help minimize the risk to consumers. I read another article about a similar problem with street food in India, and by educating vendors about their water source and cross contamination they were able to stop an outbreak. So maybe a few simple changes in their preparations could help.
      I thought it was interesting as well that one of the contaminated food sources was bread, as we usually hear about Salmonella more commonly in poultry or vegetables.

    • Stephanie Chen 6:18 pm on November 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Street food indeed plays a significant role in many cultures and was also a part of my daily life growing up. It is not surprising to see that people may be infected from foods consumed from these stalls as hygiene can often be neglected and safe food practices poorly carried out. It may also be difficult to enforce regulations on these food stalls. I agree with Tamara that it is especially unfortunate when tourists get sick after consuming must-eat foods that are authentic to specific regions. While guidelines may improve food safety in street food, people must eat them at their own risk!

    • CindyDai 2:51 pm on December 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      In most Asian countries, street food is cheap and tasty, which becomes popular among people easily. However, street food is usually a blind spot of food safety surveillance. Many food vendors dispose garbage in open lid bins or throw it on the road. They rarely use hand gloves and usually forget to wash hands before and after handling raw or cooked food. Better hygiene status and food practices should be achieved by asian street food vendors. There is a need of generating food safety awareness amongst street food vendors.

    • AngeliMalimban 6:48 pm on December 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Banh mi is definitely up there for one of my top favourite foods (next to sushi of course). A lot of the street food vendors in Asia, from my experience in the Philippines, are not even aware of food safety. In fact, a lot of people live in such conditions that food safety is not really a top priority when it comes to making food. The culture surrounded in the Philippines is more surrounded by “whether or not food will make the table” as opposed to if food is actually okay for people to consume. I think that if there was education at the home level for the importance of food safety, and the serious consequences of foodborne disease, people will start to finally understand. It can then build up with the street vendors (who often don’t have permits/just sell outside of their own house) so that they can have safe practices.

    • DeniseZhang 7:55 pm on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I actually loved eating street foods when I was studying in middle school. I believe young kids loves eating everything that is not regularly cooked at home. Street foods are cheap and delicious, young kids therefore can afford and enjoy such foods. However, as I have grown up, I now understand why our parents did not allow us to eat street foods. The safety of street foods are not guaranteed and no one actually know how did they prepare the ingredients. Used oil and harmful food additives might be used to enhance the flavour. I love how these foods taste but I do not really appreciate how did they become that tasty. I guess sometimes delicacy comes with risks just like eating raw seafoods 😀

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