Ask LH: Are Vietnamese Pork Rolls Unsafe To Eat?

Ask LH: Are Vietnamese Pork Rolls Unsafe To Eat?

Dear Lifehacker, On the weekend it was reported that scores of people contracted food poisoning from a South Sydney bakery. (Story here.) The culprit is believed to have been a Vietnamese-style pork and chicken roll. This isn’t the first time these products have caused a health scare: something similar happened in my home town last year. Are all these outbreaks a coincidence, or do I need to start looking for a new healthy lunch option? Thanks, Bánh Mì Fan

Dear BMF,

For those who are unfamiliar with the snack, Vietnamese pork rolls, or “Bánh Mì”, are crusty bread rolls filled with cured meats and salads (usually shredded carrot, lettuce, cucumber, spring onions, coriander and chopped chillies.) They also come with pate, soy dressing and an egg-based mayonnaise — which is where most of the danger lies.

While there is an inherent risk in eating any handmade food, Vietnamese pork rolls seem to be particularly troublesome to consumers. One of the most infamous examples occurred in 2003, when more than 200 people fell ill with gastroenteritis after eating pork rolls from a Footscray eatery. One of the victims died as a result and the restaurant was forced to pay out $1 million in compensation.

Over the past few years, there have been salmonella and listeria outbreaks relating to pork rolls at Café Azzuri in Wentworth, Sydney, Springvale Cake and Bakery in Springvale, Victoria, an unnamed bakery in North Sydney and French Golden Hot Bread in Homebush, Sydney — to name just a few of the cases reported in the media.

In 2013, the NSW Food Authority conducted an investigation into multiple bakery’s egg practices with an emphasis on Asian-style pork rolls. So it’s safe to say that these snacks aren’t the safest fast food going. But why is this, exactly?

The reasons are pretty obvious when you think about it. Vietnamese pork rolls contain raw egg and uncooked meat. They are also prepared by hand. To top it off, they are typically found in small, independent eateries where cleaning practices might not be strictly adhered to. This all has the potential to create a perfect diarrhea storm. In short, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

With all that said, the chances of getting sick are statistically very low when you consider how many of these things are sold on a daily basis. If you’re paranoid about it, tell them to hold the mayo, ensure the food handler is wearing gloves and stick to popular stores with good reputations.

It’s also worth noting that Vietnamese pork rolls aren’t actually that healthy for you. If you’re eating them specifically to lose weight we advise looking for a different salmonella-free snack.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Bánh mì typically contain Vietnamese cold cuts, pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, coriander, chilli (pickled or fresh), seasoning sauce and whole egg mayonnaise. I have no idea why you think that they normally contain lettuce, spring onions, parsley or soy sauce.

  • Good ol’Salmonella in the raw egg mayonnaise – the reason the health department wants raw egg products banned!

  • thinking further up the supply chain. Are the eggs more likely to be tainted if they come from battery farms vs free range farms. My first thought would be the conditions that the chickens would be laying their eggs in which may or may not be likely to provide tainted eggs, the food they eat (further up the supply chain again), and the ground (if any) they are standing on. Thus, rather than chasing the raw egg product as something to be banned, would it be worthwhile chasing the supplier of that egg to see what the conditions of the supplied product was and even where that supplier got their food supplies for their chickens from?
    Unless specifically stated (and usually heralded), I assume that these places buy the cheapest products they find which in turn would translate to the eggs coming from the cheapest source to make that mayonnaise which in turn would imply (most likely) a battery hen laid egg.

    • You’ll find caged (the cheaper option to free range) eggs usually go through thorough washing and UV light exposure to kill bacteria. Something smaller free range or small home based farms cannot afford.

  • What’s with the Mayo hate? It’s very rarely a source of salmonella, in fact it actively kills the stuff at room temperature!

    It’s one of those preserves which has been around for significantly longer than refrigeration, it’s incredibly safe if it’s made properly.

    – Food safety supervisor and whole egg mayonnaise enthusiast.

    • Yeah, I don’t get it. What is the difference between mayo in Banh Mi and any of the hundreds of other fast foods with mayo in it (eg salads, coleslaw, burgers, chicken rolls, etc)?

      • Storage temperature. Would be my guess. One guy leaves it on the bench in an air contained room. The other leaves it in front of the pie warmer.

    • I’ll tell my mate who had an artificial heart valve installed after whole egg mayo salmonella poisoning and can never drink again. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your feedback.

  • I work at a sandwhich cafe which serves the pork rolls. We usually put the egg based mayonnaise with roast pork/lemon grass chicken, cucumber, spring onion, cook onion, coriander, pickled carrot, slice chilli, soy sauce and hoi sin sauce as well.

  • The Protip is to find the place with the long queue and high turnover. That way the meats and mayo don’t sit there too long.

    Plus, the bread is fresher…

  • My cousin used to collect waste oil from restaurants and I would go along every-so-often. Trust me, you don’t want to know what the back of your favourite take-out joint looks like.

    What I saw turned me off buying food for life.

  • I first started eating them when they got a lot of news because of poisoning people. I was thinking, “if these are so good that people are prepared to risk their lives to eat them then I’ve gotta try one”. I’ve been hooked ever since. My Fav place is N Lee bakery in Smith Street Collingwood in Melbourne. French Baguette in Footscray also gets a lot of my business.

    • Good on ya mate! I’d eat them everyday if I didn’t know how much fat they contain. The best are in vietnam with extra crusty baguettes

  • Is the meat used really uncooked? The place I usually get them uses pulled pork and chicken, both cooked as far as I can tell.

    Both chicken and pork are normally regarded as unsafe to eat when uncooked, or that was my understanding.

    • It’s all about storage temperature. Hot food has to be kept hot, and cold food has to be kept cold. Food at room temp is likely to grow bacteria that can cause illness, and meats, mayo and pate sitting in a room temp bain marie, combined with poor food handling skills (do they wash their hands after handling your money?) mean that it can be a really high risk food. But really, it’s no riskier than any other dodgy sandwich, salad or burger bar.

      • Certainly true, but the article says they use, and I quote, “uncooked meat” – not simply cold meat. My understanding was that uncooked chicken is dangerous (salmonella) and uncooked pork even more so (a whole range of diseases and parasites that can also affect humans). Whereas uncooked beef is sort of OK and uncooked fish is fundamentally safe – all provided that the sort of basic food hygiene that you describe is followed.

        • I think they’re specifically referring to some of the luncheon meats used, that have been preserved, rather than cooked.

  • Refrigeration is never that good at these types of places. It can be a stinking hot day and the mayo is out all day

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