The Cambodian government is pushing for greater public awareness of food safety as it is a common issue in the Kingdom and unsafe foods pose a threat to public health that endangers everyone.

The 9th National Nutrition Day Forum was held with the theme “safer food, better health” on November 4.

Addressing the forum, Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly – who serves as chairman of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development – said that safe food benefited human health and well-being and provides the full benefits of the food’s nutritional value, whereas unsafe foods can cause a cycle of diarrhoea and malnutrition that then threatens the health of the most vulnerable.

“Unsafe food is the cause of many diseases and health impacts such as stunted physical growth and mental development, non-communicable diseases, infectious diseases and even mental illness.

“Food safety plays an important role in our daily lives. It directly concerns the food system, from the stage of production, processing, distribution and storage to the preparation and consumption of food from the farm all the way to the table. Hence, strengthening the food system for food safety and a healthy diet is of importance and requires us all to pay close attention,” he said.

Multi-sectoral Food and Nutrition Security Project in Cambodia (MUSEFO) Project Manager Farid Selmi also spoke at the forum.

“Without attention to food safety, food security and nutrition, the benefit of economic development will decline because of the losses from malnutrition and the costs of care and treatment of diseases that were caused by eating unhealthy foods such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease,” he said.

He added that to address this issue, institutions needed to develop national food safety, quality policies and guidelines in line with food technical regulations and the provisions of the Food Safety Act to raise public awareness about the benefits of food safety to everyone’s health.

According to the 2021-2022 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, the rate of stuntedness for children under 5 has dropped from 32 per cent to 22 per cent. The rate of underweight children under 5 has dropped from 24 per cent to 16 per cent, but the rate of wasted children under 5 has remained the same at 9.8 percent from 2014 through 2021. Unsafe food is a major cause of malnutrition among Cambodian children.

The food bureau at the Department of Drugs and Food at the Ministry of Health said recently that from 2015 through 2021, a total of 119 people died from food poisoning and a total of 4,699 people were made ill, but these numbers only reflect the most serious cases involving hospitalisations or medical intervention. Many more harmful but less serious – and therefore uncounted – food poisoning incidents commonly occur on a far more widespread basis across the Kingdom.