Is pho safe to eat in Vietnam? (3 risks)

In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe to eat pho in Vietnam, what are the risks of eating pho in Vietnam, how to reduce the risks of eating pho in Vietnam and how to cook pho safely.

Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish made with rice noodles, meat and other ingredients, such as vegetables, and added with anise and ginger.

It is commonly found as a street food in Vietnam, but it has increased in popularity in Asian restaurants worldwide.

Is pho safe to eat in Vietnam?

Yes, pho can be safe to eat in Vietnam, if produced under good hygienic conditions and by following good safety practices. However, it is possible that pho is not safe to eat in Vietnam, as reported in studies (1, 2, 3).

Pho is made with uncooked beef which is cooked through the simmering of a brew. However, in many cases, the beef is served undercooked. In addition, bean sprouts are often added to the dish.

Many food outbreaks have been caused due to the consumption of undercooked beef and bean sprouts.

What are the risks of eating pho in Vietnam?

The risks of eating pho in Vietnam are summarised in the table below:

Risk Description Causes Consequences

Foodborne illnesses: infection and poisoning

Consuming pho contaminated with a high count of pathogenic bacteria, fungi, parasites or viruses (1, 2) or the toxins produced by these microorganisms High microbial load can result from the ingredients (bean sprouts, meat or other ingredients), poor handling, insufficient hygiene practices, and insufficient cooking temperatures Foodborne infection (ingestion of a great number of microorganisms) or food poisoning (ingestion of microbial toxins), leading to symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, fever and in severe cases, death and miscarriage (in the case of pregnant women) (4). The ingestion of parasites leads to parasitosis (2)

Foodborne poisoning

Consuming pho contaminated with chemicals, such as formaldehyde and antibiotics (3) Formaldehyde is added to pho to preserve the pho noodles and keep them soft. A high percentage of contaminated samples were found in Vietnam’s restaurants. Antibiotics can be found in meat samples (4) Formaldehyde can cause intoxication and also lead to cancer. The ingestion of antibiotic residues from food can result in increased resistance to antibiotics used as a treatment for infections (5).

How to reduce the risks of eating pho in Vietnam?

To reduce the risks of eating pho in Vietnam, consider opting for a trustworthy restaurant and observe the following characteristics (6, 7):

  • The overall cleanliness of the place and facilities, such as tables, floor and servers with no signs of pests or chemical hazards
  • If possible, look for the cooking place and observe the food handling and the facilities, in terms of cleanliness
  • Cooks and food handlers should preferentially use clean clothes, hair nets or hats, as well as impermeable and clean gloves
  • Uncooked food items are kept separately from cooked food items
  • The freshness of the ingredients and the food served
  • Restaurants and food stores should have operating certificates from the Food Safety Authorities
  • The food should be served hot (2)
  • The beef in the pho should be well done (1)

Avoid takeout pho when beef is sold separately from the brew. This practice is found frequently in Vietnam and is not considered safe, as the beef is handled and transported uncooked (2).

Uncooked and undercooked beef can carry many pathogens, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, parasites and viruses (1, 2, 3).

Are the Vietnamese restaurants inspected?

Yes, Vietnamese restaurants are inspected by the Vietnamese Government in terms of food safety (6).

In the past years, many actions have been implemented by the Food Agencies and the Ministry of Health to improve food safety in the food industry and the country’s restaurants and reduce the number of cases of food outbreaks.

How to make a safe pho at home?

To make a safe pho at home, you should choose fresh ingredients and cook the beef before adding it to the soup, or you should cook the pho long enough to cook the beef and the bean sprouts properly. Follow the instructions (1, 2, 6):

  • Choose a fresh beef cut with a pleasant colour and odour
  • Choose fresh vegetables
  • Wash the vegetables thoroughly and, in the case of bean sprouts, blanch the sprouts in boiling water for 3 minutes
  • Cook the beef separately to a temperature of 70 °C (160 °F)
  • Reheat the noodles separately before adding to the soup or cook the pho til a temperature of 70 °C (160 °F)
  • Add fresh spices (anise and ginger)


In this article, we discussed whether pho is safe to eat in Vietnam, what are the risks of eating pho in Vietnam, how to reduce the risks of eating pho and how to make pho safely.

Pho can be safely consumed if made by following good food practices. It is a complete meal, containing vegetables, noodles and meat. If you have never tried Vietnamese food, I recommend eating pho due to its unique flavour of anise! 

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