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Beware what you eat!


Vendors sell food at their stall on a street in Yangon. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Strand Road, Yangon comes alive at night with market stalls selling all sorts of food ranging from Chinese to local bites such as montdi, mohinga, ngaphee, bean curds, several salads and avariety of barbecues. 

However,customers have to be careful as some of these foods could contain formalin while salads may be dressed with sweetening agent. Every day, the well-being of local people is endangered by the invisible threat in the foods they eat. Urban people still frequently depend on these street stalls because it is time saving, cheap and readily available.

Some street vendors take measures to guarantee the safety of their products. As personal hygiene of food handlers is important, they said that they wear gloves while they prepare and serve their products. While the freshness of the food ensures its safety for consumption, they try to sell all prepared food before it gets spoiled. They keep all food covered and free from dust and flies.

“We have to ensure the cleanliness of the food preparation area. As this place is already customer- friendly, we do not want to shift our stalls to another space,”one vendor who sells mohinga at upper Pazundaung said.

She also stated that FDA is carrying out surprise checks on the quality of street food and its raw ingredients ensuring those products meet their basic hygiene standard.

Formalin has been found in some foods such as red bean blood chunks, rice noodles, bean curd, ngapi (fish paste) and there was also illegal dyes found ( caused Aflatoxin B) in chilli powder. Among those products, formalin is mostly found in rice noodles and bean curds.

Formalin, also commonly known as formaldehyde, is a naturally occurring organic compound with the formula CH2O and can be used by vendors and manufacturers to preserve the shelf life of their product. However, its use is regarded as posing a significant danger to human health. It is a clear and colourless solution, so it is hard to identify and mostly used for dressing foods, meats, fish, fruits and milk products.

Bean curd is one of Myanmar’s favourite street food ingredients and formalin was also discovered in this product in 2005. Then the government launched a project titled “Formaldehyde – Free” in 2006. During the project, it was discovered that red bean blood, mostly used in preparing salad and curry, contained formalin of up to 95 percent.

“If the substance is present in food samples, at once, we seize the products from the stall as those are not suitable for public health. Then we ask vendors about the manufacturer or factory of that product. Some vendors didn’t want to answer but some did. When we received data about manufacturers and retailers, we took action accordingly, if necessary, we shut down those food business,”said by Dr.Pyae Phyo, officer in charge of Food and Drug Administration. 

When FDA conducted surprise check and inspection on foods across divisions and states of Myanmar in July, it was found out that ngapi (the fish-paste) sold at Maguay Division was dressed with illegal dyes  and red bean curds containing formalin were discovered in Yangon, Mandalay and Pa Tein.

On July 12, when the FDA Yangon branch conducted a surprise check at Thirimingalar market in Hlaing Township, they found and destroyed about 7,000 red bean cakes that contained formalin. 

After that case, the FDA reported the data to Yangon Region Government and FDA Naypyaydaw Branch. Then Yangon region government announced that formalin should be banned.

“100 manufacturers were summoned by Yangon Region Court and warned that the government will take serious action against anyone who used formalin in food production and even vendors who sell the products will face investigation,” Dr.Khin Saw Hla from FDA said. 

“Though we worry about the quality of the food, we still always have to depend on street stalls as it is affordable,” said one of the local company employees. But he also said that eating some foods can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.

According to FDA, the department is planning to establish specific food legislation that will allow vendors to sell their food only after they get a certificate on food safety.

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