Last weekend I had a craving for beef sticks and asked my girlfriend to go with me to eat an authentic Cambodian dish called sach ko ang in Khmer. You can smell the delicious barbecued aroma of beef sticks, marinated in lemongrass paste, just as you near the edge of the street corner of the popular local spot.
Grilled skewers of barbequed beef can be ordered in some restaurants in town, but it doesn’t beat the taste of fresh, delicious beef sticks, prepared and served on the street.
But by eating these you are also risking your health, as Cambodia isn’t a place where street food is safe, and food hygiene is not high on the priority list.
Food-borne illnesses are a growing public health threat worldwide and can have long term health consequences. The World Health Organization reports that diarrheal disease accounts for 2.2 million deaths globally, and the majority of these deaths are food-borne related. Most cases of food poisoning are a result of unhygienic methods; preparing the food, handling the food and incorrect temperature for food storage. When it comes to germs such as salmonella, all it takes is 15-20 cells in undercooked food to cause food poisoning.
A tiny taste of food with botulism toxin can cause paralysis and even death.
The Global Hygiene Council recently released an observational study, “The Cross-Contamination Study”, and reported that up to 90 per cent of surfaces touched during food preparation can become contaminated with bacteria from food, which can cause food-borne diseases and illnesses.
Food safety involves monitoring food so that it does not cause food-borne illnesses.
Here are some helpful tips which can help stop harmful bacteria from spreading:
1. Wash your hands with soap after touching raw meat and vegetables.
2. Dry your hands thoroughly, if they are wet they will spread bacteria more easily.
3. Change dish cloths regularly. They may look clean, but they are the perfect place for bacteria to grow.
4. Do not put cooked meat on a plate with raw meat. Germs from the raw meat can spread to the cooked meat.
5. Do not use raw meat marinade on cooked food. Germs from the raw meat can spread to the cooked food.
After eating about eight beef sticks, we ordered some more to give to our tuk tuk driver. While we were waiting for the beef sticks to cook, I noticed a netted towel (which was used to cover the raw beef), that was dirty.
The filthy netted towel looked like my brother’s dirty gym socks, and just thinking about this possible bacteria-infected towel hovering over the beef sticks made me take immediate action.
We went to the nearest UCARE store to purchase 200mg of Albendazole, a tablet for the treatment of intestinal and tissue parasites like roundworms and tapeworms. Albendazole was highly recommended by my doctor in the US to take every six months while living in countries like Cambodia.
We were lucky that we didn’t get sick from eating the beef sticks on the street that day. It could be that the beef sticks were cooked thoroughly, which killed the harmful bacteria, or that we took the prescribed drug.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.