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Food safety needs tightening

A woman organises meat cuts at her stall in Phnom Penh
A woman organises meat cuts at her stall in Phnom Penh’s Kandal market late last week. KIMBERLEY MCCOSKER

Food safety needs tightening

The Cambodian government will introduce a food-safety law later this year that would see the Kingdom adopt a set of national food safety standards and ensure greater coordination across ministries, according to a health official.

Aing Hoksrun, chief of the food bureau at the Department of Drugs and Food, said the law was being drafted and will apply to all kinds of food, including street food.

Speaking at workshop on food safety, co-organised by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of France in Cambodia and Eurocham, in Phnom Penh yesterday, Hoksurn said that hygiene standards was a major concern when it came to attracting foreign tourists.

“Cambodia does not have a food safety law. We just have a prakas, which is signed by a minister,” he said.

The food and beverage industry is currently regulated by an inter-ministerial prakas, which sees six different ministries overlooking different aspects of food safety, Hoksun said.

According to Didier Fontenille, director at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, a bio-medical research lab, there are currently 452 food safety standards being passed around different ministries, but only 12 have been officially published so far. A clear set of standards are needed to help guide business, he said.

“It is a business. So if you want to develop tourism and if you want to export you have to follow the rules and regulations,” he said.

In 2009, the Pasteur Institute conducted tests on raw chicken meat available in Phnom Penh’s chicken market and found that 46 per cent of the samples showed traces of salmonella. However, four years later, the rate of salmonella had dropped, possibly due to better education among vendors.

“We know that it is present. And because we know that, my feeling is that is it is now possible to progress and manage it. It is not to make people afraid, but it exists,” Fontenille added.

In the absence of a wide-ranging food safety law, many food and beverage businesses are adopting third party standards, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

The HAACP based on the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognised standards relating to food production and safety, which prescribes seven principles and 12 steps to ensure safe food production and processing. The process to get this certification is not easy and can take a couple of years.

But it is difficult to get food suppliers to follow these rules and maintain quality standards, according to Celine Serriere, managing director at Blue Pumpkin.

She said that Blue Pumpkin is currently following HACCP, but the challenge was “explaining to a chicken supplier that they cannot deliver meat in a bag and that it has to come in a case filled with ice”.

She added that of the 30 suppliers they have only six that can provide food tracking information, or details about the origin of the meat and how it is transported.

“We are asking only basic, minimal information now,” Serriere said.

Food suppliers will have to give greater detail once a comprehensive set of standards have been introduced, she added.

Serriere said education and training is critical, both with suppliers and her staff. Ensuring high standards should not become a robotic exercise, rather a process to get people to care about ensuring food safety.

“We have to go through this process because food safety is too important and it can break your image or make a business completely fold,” she said.

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