Delights and dangers of street food

Delights and dangers of street food

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IT’S not hard to find good eating places in Phnom Penh these days. If you walk around the city, you’ll come upon a growing number of restaurants, cafes and food stalls along the streets.

Khmer, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and many Western foods are ready to satisfy you whenever your appetite calls.

And, as the number of formal and informal restaurants catering to both locals and overseas tourists grows, many small food stalls on the street are meeting the demands of young people eating out.

This is even more noticeable in the evenings, when students enjoy eating on the street after school.

It’s common to see small chairs and tables arranged on the pavement near pagodas and schools such as Sisowat High School, Sonthormuk High School and the National University of Management,
to name just a few.

It has become something of a tradition for young Cambodians to gather  on the pavement and eat food from carts and stalls. There may not be an immediate health risk caused by eating these foods, but years of regular consumption could pose a threat.

Much of the food sold at these stalls, such as crab-meat bars, fish bubbles, chicken wings and hot dogs, has been imported at a lower price from neighbouring countries and could pose a risk to customers’ health because of the chemical substances injected into them as preservatives.

I once encountered spoiled hot dogs and fish bubbles when my friends and I ate at a street stall (which I would prefer not to name).

The meat was softer than usual and had a slightly sour taste, which is why I abruptly stopped eating it after the first piece. But many other people eating there seemed not to realise this.

From my observations, chicken wings are probably the most popular food at street stalls.

But I often wonder whether all the people who eat them ever question where these countless chicken wings sold by street vendors come from. It would be impossible for local poultry farmers to produce so many.

Despite the establishment of a Risk Management Unit (RMU) within the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General (Camcontrol) to check and control the quality of food products in the market, many spoiled goods are still sold for human consumption.

One of the most recent actions taken by Camcontrol officials was to check products in the Depo market, espec-ially canned products, bubble meat, bubble fish and all kinds of noodles.

According to Bayon news on August 11, about 240kg of yellow noodles was found to be contaminated with borax, a substance that is considered dangerous to health.

You have perhaps already seen frequent references on television and in newspapers to the confiscation of meat containing excessive quan-tities of chemicals.

Much effort has been put into helping control those harmful products, but it could still be more effective.  I think the Risk Management Unit alone is not enough to control these unhealthy products.

A more important, and effective, step would be to increase consumers’ knowledge of healthy foods and their awareness of the long-term effects of some street food.

Young Cambodians, espec-ially, should be more concerned and selective about their daily diets. They should be alert for news about food safety and be more careful when eating particular foods.

If fewer people consumed chicken wings, for example, the sale of chicken wings would decrease, leading to the end of imports.

This accords with the Social Marketing Approach, the use of marketing to design and implement programs to promote socially beneficial behaviour change, coined in 1971 by Kotler and Zaltman.

When there are more health messages conveyed through marketing advertisements using this approach, there will be changes in consumers’ buying behaviour. Then people will be able to choose products that benefit their health.

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