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Poor sanitation in Cambodia's markets

Poor sanitation in Cambodia's markets


A local market in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Ou Banung/Phnom Penh Post

Slums in Cambodia often have fish and vegetable markets that are lacking in proper hygiene when it comes to handling food. For this reason, many shoppers of the younger generation prefer to shop at the supermarket rather than the old-fashioned stall markets found across the country.

Phan Chan Ratana, a 19-year-old university student, says that she does not like shopping at the vegetable market for several reasons.

“I do not go shopping so often. I choose to go to supermarket as it is clean and comfortable, plus there is great hygiene,” Chan Ratana said.

Is it possible to avoid buying from old markets entirely? A housewife, Chor Lyda, has 40 years experience as a shopper providing food for her household.

“It is hard to avoid shopping there, though I knew that it is dirty. But, the price is not that expensive, plus it’s close to my house, so that I can save my time and money for family. As you’re aware, being a housewife, I am required to reduce the expenses as much as possible.”

Chor Lyda says that if it rains, she does not want to shop at the market at all, for the reason that when she walks across from one store to another, her feet become itchy from the water which collects around the markets, and she needs to clean them with alcohol as soon as she arrives home.

Sok Ouch, a vegetable seller at the Century Plaza market explains, “It is already well-known that the non standard market is dirty. We, the sellers, believe that storing food elevated is enough to keep food clean.”

Sok Ouch, who has 30 years experience in selling at the market, also suggests that it is not only the sellers alone who are responsable for hygiene, but the customers themselves should be mindful of the issue as well.

In response to this concern, Kong Choy, a man responsable for cleaning at the Central Market, clarified that his experience is “similar to other markets. When my colleagues and I go checking stallholders, they nicely follow the rules, but when we have passed, some sellers put their stuff over the lines or on the ground, since they believe that keeping the items there can attract more clients than if they follow the guidelines.”

“For those who go against the regulations of cleaning and ordering, I am going to explain by using microphone or talk face to face before going to fine or punish them,” Choy added.

“It is understood that some vegetables and meats have already contained some chemical elements,” says Dr Seth Chan Tha. “When vendors leave those in markets in the slum areas, those foods will definitely gather more bacteria, and if the buyers haven’t cleaned it properly, it will affect their health.”

“There are two kinds of impact,” the doctor added. “The first is the short term effect: 48 hours after eating, people might suffer diarrhea or vomiting. The long term effect is the risk of facing diseases such as stomach cancer.”

To deal with this issue, Dr Chan Tha recommends: “First of all, the customer should check the cleanliness of sellers. The higher they keep their things above the ground, the better and the cleaner they are. But the most important thing is cleaning vegetables and meat before you eat them.”

“If a market has no slum area and no bad smells, I would go there. Also, to be able to do shopping freely, I would suggest the seller to keep their things on the proper store as keeping the stuff on the ground is unhygenic.”