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Food safety law a boon to public health

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A man prepares grilled fish for sale at Tuol Tompoung market in February. Heng Chivoan

Food safety law a boon to public health

A new food safety law is of vital importance to protect public health and safety as it will ensure quality food and good hygiene and also aid in reducing occurrences of various diseases, government officials said.

The draft food safety law – with 11 chapters and 43 articles – was approved by the Senate on May 18, pending promulgation by the King.

Penn Sovicheat, Ministry of Commerce undersecretary of state and spokesman, told The Post on May 30 that the law is a crucial way of protecting the health of all people by making sure they consume quality, safe and hygienic food, thereby keeping them healthy and avoiding various diseases.

“This law also helps ensure transparent competition, prevents counterfeit products and will enhance the reputation of Cambodian food products in international markets. It is an important part of boosting exports,” he said.

Ang Vong Vathana – senior minister in charge of special missions who led a government delegation to defend the bill – said on May 18 that the law has the importance task of setting basic principles to promote food safety and compliance with applicable international laws and regulations. It aims to promote the wellbeing of the public and protect consumer interests, while making a major contribution to alleviating poverty.

“This law will make it possible for Cambodia to prepare a modern food safety system by establishing preventive measures and controlling production chains rather than inspecting and analysing finished products,” he said.

Bun Sethy, a resident of Kandal province’s Takhmao,told The Post that he often bought prepared food from outside his home because after leaving work in the evening, he was too tired to cook and therefore bought food on the street.

“Actually, I am worried about food safety, but I have no choice because the price on the street is affordable. There is a restaurant near my workplace, but it is too expensive. On the street, a box of rice and a bag of food cost only 4,000 riel [$1] but at a restaurant, the price is 8,000 riel or more,” he said.

When asked if he had ever been sick from street food, he said a doctor once told him that his health was weak due to a lack of nutrients and vitamins.

“I often buy street food, but I always check to see if the store is clean before I buy. If the place seems messy or is littered with rubbish, I won’t buy from them. To this day, I have never had a problem with food poisoning or diarrhea. That’s why I keep eating street food,” he said.

Although he thinks the new law will improve safety standards, he does worry that it will restrict street food sales. He wondered if they will be able to meet the high standards set by the new law while still being affordable.

Lon Ry, a food vendor in front of Phsar Chas Market in the capital’s Daun Penh district, said she had not heard about the new law, and so could not say whether it would affect her job or not.

“I applaud our country for this law and I hope that when it is promulgated, street vendors will not have problems. For me, good hygiene and safe food are important principles. I apply them both on a regular basis to protect the health of my customers and my own family, who eat the food that I sell every day,” she said.

Ry added that she is not worried about fines or food inspection as she heeds good hygiene practises.

Sovicheat said the ministry will inspect the operations of market and street vendors, urgng them to maintain good hygiene and – over time – pushing for an improvement in quality to attract tourism.

“Food destinations that serve the tourist sector and the livelihood of the people in the middle and low income levels are street and market food stalls. They have to maintain strong hygienic standards because hygiene reflects the guarantee of quality and safety,” he said.

The ministry said its main priority work would be enforcing hygiene standards.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 220 million children develop diarrhea each year, and 96,000 children die from problems related to food safety. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition that threatens the nutritional status of the most vulnerable.

Sok Silo, secretary-general of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), said that between 2015 and 2021, a total of 4,699 food poisoning cases were recorded. Citing the food bureau under the Ministry of Health’s drugs and food department, he said 119 of the cases proved fatal.

“Unsafe food poses a global health threat to everyone, but infants, small children, pregnant women, the elderly and the ill are particularly vulnerable to the problem,” he said.

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