Inspections will be stepped up with strict penalties for those found violating food hygiene and safety regulations in a bid to ensure people enjoy a healthy Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, said Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan.

The deputy PM was speaking at a meeting in Hanoi on Jan. 6 to launch an action month on food safety that starts on Jan. 10.

The month coincides with Tet when food safety is of particular concern to individuals and agencies.

Throughout the month, the Ministry of Health hopes to cut cases of food poisoning by 10 percent compared with the same period last year, said Nhan.

"The media should educate consumers, producers and traders in a bid to increase awareness of food hygiene and change traditional bad habits," he added.

He also said that the ministry should collaborate with other relevant ministries and sectors to increase inspections, deal with violations, and most importantly, make everyone aware of new food safety laws.

At the event, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said that the sector still faces difficulties controlling food imported through the country's border gates, chemical levels, processing procedures and unqualified food in markets.

"Food poisoning, especially cases in industrial zones, schools, tourist attractions and festivals, has caused huge economic losses and damaged the reputation of Vietnamese food and the country's image," added Tien.

Health ministry statistics said that the number of cases of food poisoning had fallen remarkably in 2011, with a decline of 22 percent compared to 2010.

A similar event to launch the month of action for food safety and hygiene was also held on Jan. 6 in HCM City.

Over the past years, the city has implemented measures to reduce food poisoning and transmission of diseases through food by setting up many safe models of livestock breeding and aquaculture and promoting safe cultivation practices, the municipal People's Committee Vice Chairman Hua Ngoc Thuan said.

In 2011, the number of food poisoning cases reduced by more than 38 percent compared to 2010.

The Government also recently ratified a National Food Safety Strategy for the period 2011-20 with a vision to 2030.

It aims to have 70 percent of food manufacturers following food safety regulations by 2015.

By 2015, all central cities and provinces should have completed their food safety management plans, the strategy says.

The strategy also sets a target that by 2015, 70 percent of consumers and 80 percent of food managers, including leaders of related ministries and sectors, chairmen of people's committees at different levels and managers of food processing and trading enterprises, will have a good knowledge of food safety.

Another target set out in the strategy is that by 2015, all industrial food processing enterprises, 80 percent of collective dining-rooms and 40 percent of restaurants will be issued with food safety certificates./.