Cambodia marked World Food Safety Day on August 16, with all stakeholders calling for a focus on food safety for the good of public health and sustainable development.

The event drew 300 participants, including policymakers, development partners, NGOs, industry experts, businesses, academics, students, farmers and youth groups.

United in their mission, they emphasised that everyone, everywhere, should contribute to ensuring food safety for all.

With “Food standards save lives” as its theme, this year’s event was Cambodia’s second World Food Safety Day celebration, led by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD).

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina underscored the vital role of safe and readily available healthy food. He said Cambodia has achieved food security, with the focus now shifting to food safety.

“Food borne illness is a crucial public health issue in Cambodia. We are committed to ensuring that our food supply is safe and healthy for all Cambodians through a multi-sectoral approach, which will lead to safe and healthy diets, accessible through proper pricing and responsiveness to all forms of nutrition issues,” he said.

“However, this task requires good stakeholder cooperation and a willingness among respective stakeholders to implement relevant food safety practices. These stakeholders should comprise consumers, the private sector and public institutions from the national and sub-national levels,” he added.

A joint press statement revealed that between 2010 and 2015, more than half of disease outbreaks resulted from food poisoning or diarrhoea.

Between 2014 and 2019, it noted, 134 outbreaks of food borne illnesses were traced back to poor hygiene in food preparation, improper storage temperatures, cross-contamination, and the use of contaminated water and ingredients.

Nargiza Khodjaeva, acting representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia, said that food safety, nutrition and food security not only contribute to the health and wellbeing of a population, but also support national economies, thereby stimulating sustainable development. She said that a global pandemic, climate change, and rapidly changing food systems have had an impact on food safety.

“While globally Southeast Asia has some of the highest incidences and death rates related to food borne illness, the positive steps the Cambodian government has made to strengthen food safety to date will help safeguard human health for all Cambodians,” she said.

Oum Kosal, assistant representative (programme) at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said that everyone involved in the food chain, from farm to table, shares the responsibility for food safety.

At the celebration, speakers covered a range of subjects, including food production standards, standards for street vendors and stallholders, safeguarding consumer health, ensuring fairness in food trade, food labelling standards, school food guidelines, and the path to global compliance.

“Cambodia’s food processing industry has the potential for economic development. The government strives to improve food safety and standards as the country enters the global market,” said Sok Narin, country representative of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

“We are currently assisting in developing a legal framework and control system, while building capacity to ensure food standards are improved and public health requirements are met. Through the EU funding, we are implementing the food safety systems in the fisheries sector, harmonising with EU requirements, which could be replicated in other sectors,” she added.

Cambodia has enacted multiple laws concerning food safety, including the Food Safety Law, Law on Standards of Cambodia, Consumer Protection Law, and the Law on the Management of Quality and Safety of Products and Services.

Claire Conan, World Food Programme (WFP) representative to Cambodia, said the UN body is working on food safety in the context of the home-grown school feeding programme.

“We are not only feeding hungry children, but also ensuring that the food they eat is safe and healthy,” she said.

The variety of topics underscored the significance of various parties and sectors, emphasising the influence of food safety standards on both public health and the economy.