Public Concerns Raised Over Food Safety

A recent spike in cases of food poisoning have led to calls from the public and relevant organizations for measures to be tightened to ensure quality food safety standards, especially with regard to street food vendors
A person buys food from a street vendor in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
A person buys food from a street vendor in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

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Public concerns have been mounting about food safety after a series of cases of food poisoning in recent weeks, with NGOs calling for tighter measures to be put in place.

The spike in incidents has led to calls from the public for food vendors to be more hygiene and consistently check on food quality, especially for street food sellers.

In addition, NGOs are urging the government to be more responsible for checking the quality of imported vegetables, fruits, meats, and requested street vendors be provided with adequate places to store foods to guarantee foods are safe and not harmful to health.

Set Kimhong, a Year 3 student majoring in Computer Science, told Kiripost on Monday that he experienced food poisoning last week after eating street food.

“Last time, I got terrible food poisoning and came up with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache, headache and fever. Recently, [the food poisoning] was not extremely serious, but I felt pressure in my chest, had a headache and felt my stomach aching like it was twisting inside,” he said, describing his symptoms of having food poisoning twice.

Kimhong got serious food poisoning after eating instant noodles at home that had passed their expiry date, and recently got sick after eating papaya salad and meatballs bought from street food stalls.

“I don’t want to blame the food vendor alone. Maybe sometimes she did not clean the vegetables well. For the other time, it may be due to me consuming meals improperly,” Kimhong said.

He said he spent about $50 in hospital bills to treat the food poisoning,​ including serum suspension, staying overnight at hospital, and medicines.

“I will try to cut down on eating street food. But I won't stop eating it because I still like it,” he mentioned.

Kimhong added that after encountering food poisoning many times, he will also be more selective where he eats and be more conscious of food hygiene than he used to be.

He also requests that all food vendors, especially street food sellers, be more hygienic during cooking, and prioritize customers' health. In addition, he suggests that the Government checks food quality to ensure safe food standards.

“I would like to see them [food vendors] be more hygienic because we weren't sure how they cooked it since we were sitting behind them and did not watch how they were cooking,” Kimhong noted. “Therefore, we didn’t know what they put inside the food. What I only know is how delicious it was. They should think of customers’ health rather than money, especially for street food.”

“If the government checks the food, it is better because it will provide confidence for consumers that it is not harmful to eaters’ health,” he mentioned, regarding the Government's food checking.

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Lang Sokhun, a student at TUX Global majoring in UX UI design, said he had diarrhea for two days after eating papaya salad bought from a street food vendor.

“I can see that it's actually harmful for health and I try to avoid [eating street foods] as much as I can. Probably the environment and lots of dust [is a cause]. Not everything is covered up against motor or car pollution,” he said, showing concern about food security along the streets.

Sokhun recommends having proper places for street food sellers to sell and cook their food to make it more convenient and hygienic.

“Having a good area for street food and always covering up the ingredients, as well as having a glass cabinet, is good. I think the main source [of contamination] is the area,” he said.

In addition, he requests that the Government also be responsible for checking street food every month to evaluate the main sources that can lead to unsafe food and to ensure that all vendors adhere to food safety standards.

Lim Kimhoung, a Royal University of Phnom Penh student majoring in Data Science, said that she typically gets food poisoning from food outside and at her school due to a lack of checking the condition of the meals she eats.

She said whenever she has food poisoning, the symptoms include a stomach ache, which affects her daily routine.

“Usually, I have food poisoning because I did not check well on whether I can eat it or not. I have a bad sense of smell so it’s hard for me to sense whether it is ok,” she said.

After getting food poisoning, Kimhoung also tries to avoid eating outside and prefers home-cooked meals instead. She also urges food vendors to be more hygiene and ensure ingredients are fresh every day.

Thy Kakroney, a student at the National University of Management International College majoring in Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation, has also been the victim of food poisoning.

She said she and her family have experienced food poisoning from home-cooked meals, even though the ingredients have been well cleaned and cooked.

“At that time, I ate fried broccoli and shrimp. It was bad. It affected my day because I was not able to attend class,” she said, adding that to avoid food poisoning people should clean vegetables well and be cautious where foods are bought.

Leang Khna, 49, has been a street food vendor in front of the Mongkolvan​ pagoda for more than a decade. She told Kiripost that keeping food hygienic and cooking it safely for customers is a priority, even though there is a huge cost difference between low and high quality vegetables and meats.

“There are two types of vegetables. One from Vietnam and another from Cambodia. But Khmer vegetables are more expensive than Vietnamese vegetables,” she said while frying noodles for customers on the street.

She added that the price gap between Cambodian and Vietnamese vegetables is double. However, she still buys local meat and vegetables rather than imported ones due to the food quality and safety for her customers.

“The price is more than half the difference. For example, a Khmer vegetable costs between 4,000 to 5,000 riels, compared to Vietnamese vegetables which are only 2,000 riels per kilogram,” she said.

Khna also wants to have a stable place to sell her food; however, she has no choice due to a decline in income and the fact that her current spot is free, so she can sell food at a low price with little profit.

Vorn Poa, President of the Independent Democratic of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), admits that foods in Cambodia are often not as hygienic as other bordering countries. He said it is necessary for authorities to double-check the source of vegetables and meat, and whether they are of adequate quality to eat before entering the market.

“We realize that all types of goods are increasing in price. Meanwhile, they [vendors] don’t have proper selling places. Importing vegetables from neighboring countries with a lack of quality is also harmful for consumers’ health, but are cheaper prices than local vegetables. These are the factors that the authorities should pay attention to,” he said.

Poa is urging the Government to provide proper and clean places for street food sellers, as well as offering training regarding food safety and security that covers storing and cooking meals to guarantee food safety for consumers.

“The Government plays a significant role in helping to check up on the import of foods to the country to ensure it is not going to harm the health of consumers from sellers. Moreover, the Government should check for what kind of vegetables can be grown or produced in the country. If local people also can grow those crops, the Government should ban more fruits and vegetables from abroad,” he added.

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