Private education not plagued by food safety violations

October 15, 2019 | 17:50
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Food safety violations akin to the one reported at Vietnam Australia International School (VAS) in Ho Chi Minh City are a grave disappointment for parents but do not represent the entire private education system.
private education not plagued by food safety violations
The highest administrative fine for food-safety violations is too small against the income the VAS get annually

According to Decree No.115/2018/ND-CP outlining administrative sanctions on food safety, the highest fine is about VND200 million ($8,700). However, the fine may not be deterrent enough violators like VAS in Ho Chi Minh City, which charges thousands of US dollars in tuition fees.

The school has gotten into trouble twice now over its school meals. The latest time was about a month ago, when several parents paid a surprise visit to the VAS branch in Sala Mega Campus (District 2, Ho Chi Minh City) and discovered that the meals that cost them nearly VND50,000 ($2.17) a day – almost twice as much as the VND30,000 ($1.3) standard set by regulations – was abysmal in quality.

Bui Thi Diem Thu, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, said that a meal for a grade-schooler must cost at least VND30,000 ($1.30). The cost would ensure the food safety standards approved by the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) and the National Institute of Nutrition. She also expressed concern about the quality of VAS’ meals, uncertain whether they satisfy the MoET’s standards.

The case made a huge stir as it was a shocking shortcoming compared to VAS' promise of quality and its exorbitant tuition fees. Reacting to the outrage, the school agreed to establish a supervision board including parents.However, it has not been clarified where the decision to cut portions came from. quoted a parent as saying, “We pay tuition to VAS, so we expect the school to take responsibility. However, they have done nothing but blame the caterer [Aden].”

Moreover, even after the scandal, the school maintained its partnership with Aden without issuing any sanctions. “VAS’ staff will collaborate with Aden to continue the periodical audits on the quantity and quality, hygiene, and safety of food, as well as tighten the implementation of 22 procedures of food processing and operation by Aden and the four-step food monitoring by VAS,” quoted the press release.

VAS' first incident with school meals was in the middle May 2019 when a student of the VAS branch in Sunrise Campus (District 7, Ho Chi Minh City) found a maggot in the tomato slices served for lunch. After that, the branch’s management board and its caterer (The Caterers) made inspections and switched from raw to steamed vegetables for all meals.

According to VAS, in the 2019-2020 school year, the highest annual school fee is VND425 million ($18,478) for 12th graders, and the lowest is VND143 million ($6,217) for grade-schoolers. The annual charge for meals is VND26.46-38.304 million ($1,150-1,665), based on grade. VAS is one of the most expensive private schools in Ho Chi Minh City. At present, the school is offering educational services to more than 8,500 students from kindergarten through 12th grade at eight campuses in Ho Chi Minh City.

Compared to this income VAS makes on tuition fees, the administrative fine of VND200 million ($8,700) (in case the school receives the highest fine for the school-meal issues) will carry little sway in itself.

While VAS has been disappointing parents with its school-meal problems, other private schools like Vietnam Australia School in Hanoi (VAS Hanoi) and The Olympia Schools, which charge similar tuition fees as VAS in Ho Chi Minh City, have shown far more responsibility in selecting caterers and sanctioning violations.

Responding VIR about the issue, Duong Thi Hong Hanh, managing director of VAS Hanoi said that the school only works with experienced food suppliers that fully comply with the Ministry of Health’s Decision No.1246/QD-BYT on food business. Also, the food supply contracts have strict requirements on food safety and origin. Moreover, each supplier needs to ensure the highest quality materials before processing meals.

VAS Hanoi annually organises meetings with its food suppliers to review other schools’ unfortunate incidents and heavy-handedly sanctions violations at its own household. Specifically, suppliers will be fined for at least half of the monthly food cost if the food is discovered to be unsafe or fail to live up to quantity and quality requirements.

To avoid unfortunate incidents like VAS in Ho Chi Minh City, the school has established a supervision board to monitor food suppliers. The members of the board include the district’s experts specialised in food safety as well as representatives of the parent community.

The Olympia Schools have similarly strict requirements for food suppliers. Besides, the school’s Medical Department also uses the KIT Test to check the safety of ingredients. To ensure and maintain the quality of meals, the school regularly stages routine and spot checks on farms and food suppliers' facilities. Moreover, the school readily welcomes parents to join the checking of the ingredients and the preparation of school meals.

By Van Anh

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