Toxic produce spurs ministry food safety bid

Toxic produce spurs ministry food safety bid

Stricter checks for fruits, veggies on way

The Public Health Ministry is preparing to enforce measures to better protect consumers after a large number of fruit and vegetables were found to be contaminated with harmful chemical residues.

The tainted produce includes broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, oranges, cantaloupes and watermelons, according to the ministry's survey of fresh markets, supermarkets and imported goods retailers.

Speaking to mark World Health Day yesterday, Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin said Thailand will join the World Health Organisation's (WHO) campaign for food safety, following a report that up to two million people worldwide die from eating food contaminated with germs and chemicals each year.

The ministry will launch fresh measures, including a new ministerial law, to keep farm produce under check and try to make food safe and clean from farm to table.

The law, which is being drafted, aims to put stricter controls on packaged fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets.

Once the law takes effect, all these products must meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards.

Goods must also be labelled correctly with information to allow food traceability, Dr Rajata said.

The ministry plans to set up a health centre to help consumers exposed to contaminated agricultural products.

The centre, to be run by the ministry's Department of Medical Sciences, will develop an easy-to-use test-kit to look for traces of chemicals in fruit and vegetables.

"Its work will not be limited to domestic crops. We want to develop it so that produce from across Asean can be assessed," Dr Rajata said.

The ministry's latest survey of 60,000 fruit and vegetable samples this year found up to 9% were unsafe to eat.

Imported goods also raised concerns after harmful levels of chemicals were found in broccoli, spinach, dried chilli, oranges, dragon fruit and grapes.

Domestic vegetables, including cabbages, cauliflower, bai bua bok (pennywort) and two local vegetables, phak khanaeng and dok hom and fruit such as oranges, apples, pears, cantaloupes and watermelons were found to be contaminated.

The Food and Drug Administration will be asked to update its safety limits on pesticide residues in accordance with the actual usage of chemicals in farms, Dr Rajata said.

The ministry will also work with the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to ensure chemicals are used in line with the 1992 Hazardous Substances Act.

In addition to contamination issues, the ministry will establish a system to better monitor food sold in schools, at roadside stalls and restaurants to ensure it meets hygiene and health standards.

Dr Rajata insisted these measures were crucial because many Thais come into contact with food from these sources.

More than one million people in Thailand suffer illnesses including acute diarrhoea and food poisoning each year after consuming contaminated food, the ministry said. The measures would give them better protection.

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