SOK Samphoasphalyka, a 19-year-old university student, recalled finding an expired package of instant noodles just before she was about to serve it. The package was one among hundreds her mother had just bought from a nearby store.
“It was only after I’d opened the package that I saw it was already expired by one month,” said the young teenager, adding that her mother did not carefully check the expiration dates before she bought the noodles.
This is only one instance among the many that go unreported. It is common place to find expired products on the Cambodian market, where a combination of low quality management and consumer awareness makes it easy for spoiled food to go unnoticed. Many Cambodians don’t even check the expiration dates of food they purchase.
Aware of this issue, a Risk Management Unit (RMU) has been established within the Ministry of Commerce’s Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General (Camcontrol) to ensure the product quality for the sake of consumer health and safety.
Khlauk Chuon, assistant director-general at Camcontrol, said that the department’s ongoing activities focus on controlling the quality of products that are exported, imported, and those sitting on market shelves.
“Our staff regularly monitors products sold in the market,” he said. Phnom Penh is the epicentre of trade in Cambodia, with most imported products passing through the city before being shipped out to the provinces. “If we can control product safety in the capital, there is little chance that spoiled products will make it out to the provinces, although we do have agencies throughout the country,” Khlauk Chuon explained.
Even with these strict countermeasures, expired products can still make it into the shopping carts of unaware customers who neglect to check the dates before purchase.
Sok Somnang, a 22-year-old student, once bought an expired pack of cashew nuts in a super market he had thought was completely safe. Besides the bad taste, he was fortunate enough to avoid any ill effects.
Dr. Ly Chenghut of the LCC Medical Center explained the potential harms of expired food products in a recent interview with LIFT. “When a product is expired, it means the chemical substances in the product itself have deteriorated,” he said, adding that the health repercussions depend on the type of product consumed and the degree of expiration.
Eating expired products may not always cause immediate illness, but may pose risks in the long-term. According to a report published by a 1993 article from the Journal of Dairy Science, drinking milk and eating expired food can lead to a Listeriosis, a food borne disease that can cause serious illness, especially in infants, pregnant women, and the elderly.
It may well be impossible to monitor the thousands of products imported from around the world each day. Regulating the flow of expired products takes time and resources, and the official in charge will never be able to plug every loophole.
Checking the products when they arrive on the market is considered only as second line of defence. Khlauk Chuon said more effort needs to be placed on controlling products’ quality before they reach the market, during the manufacturing and import stages.
“It is vital to inspect all products, whether they’ve been imported from overseas or manufactured locally,” he asserted.