Hanoi company fined $755 after vegan pate poisons 14

By Tat Dinh, Vo Hai, Hoang Phong   September 4, 2020 | 12:08 am PT
Hanoi company fined $755 after vegan pate poisons 14
A person holds a jar of Minh Chay pate made by Loi Song Moi Company in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang.
A Hanoi-based company was fined VND17.5 million ($755) for failing to meet food safety standards following the poisoning of at least 14 people consuming its vegan pate.

The punishment was announced Thursday after inspectors of the Food Safety Division in Hanoi visited Loi Song Moi (New Lifestyle) Company in Hanoi's Dong Anh District, discovering it had failed to meet sanitation requirements. Inspectors subsequently forced the company to suspend operations starting August 29 and retrieved samples for testing.

Test results carried out by the Ho Chi Minh City-based Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the National Institute for Food Control showed different batches of Minh Chay vegan pate contained Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic bacteria containing strong toxins that can block nerve functions and lead to respiratory and muscular paralysis and even death.

Earlier, the Health Ministry said at least nine people in HCMC and two in Hanoi were hospitalized in severe condition since July 13 after consuming the pate produced by the company. All experienced droopy eyelids and paralyzed respiratory muscles caused by foodborne botulism.

Three others in Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam have also been hospitalized after eating bread with Minh Chay vegan pate. All suffered mild poisoning and are in stable condition, doctors said.

The Department of Food Safety under the ministry on August 30 published an urgent warning, telling people to stop consuming the pate and visit local hospitals if they experienced any symptoms after ingestion. Consumers have also been advised to notify local authorities about several products made by Loi Song Moi, including its vegan pate, meatloaf and mushrooms.

Over 7,000 pate jars from the company, each containing 450 grams, entered the market between July 1 and August 22. Authorities have identified 1,290 customers in HCMC and at least 1,200 in Hanoi, but have only recalled 10 percent of the jars.

Nguyen Ngoc Minh, co-founder of the Minh Chay brand, said the production process does not involve chemical preservatives and that the company is willing to take responsibility for the incident.

Minh said five people who run the business are family members. He is currently assisting police, while the other members are supporting the victims.

"During the production process, we use an autoclave of 120 degrees Celsius within 45 minutes without chemicals. The generation of toxic bacteria was out of control, we are ready to take responsibility for the incident. My family are vegetarians and would never dare produce or sell toxic products to anyone," Minh said.

Police are investigating the cause of foodborne botulism cases caused by Minh Chay vegan pate.

Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that produces dangerous toxins under low-oxygen conditions. Botulinum toxins are ingested through food in which the bacteria or the spores survive, then grow and produce the toxins, according to doctors at Cho Ray Hospital.

Symptoms usually appear within 12 to 36 hours, or longer. They include stomachache, fatigue, muscle pain, blurred vision, a dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing and speaking and droopy eyelids. Patients can end up with respiratory failure caused by paralyzed respiratory muscles.

Vietnam does not currently have an antitoxin serum, which must be imported from abroad. Most of the patients are treated with ventilation, plasma exchange, antibiotics and physical therapy procedures.

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