A meatworker debones a carcass at a private city slaughteryard.
hnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara is moving against illegal slaughterhouses for
hygiene and tax evasion reasons, but hygiene issues also arise in some legal slaughterhouses
Sophara, whose office monitors the quality of the meat that is brought to markets,
said he would close down illegal slaughterhouses. The reason for this, he said, was
because of concerns with the poor quality of meat on sale in some establishments.
"Any meat that is bad should not be put on sale," he said. "Meat that
does not have the seal of approval from the inspectors will be thrown away. [Vendors]
will be fined if they sell bad meat to the people."
The issue of meat quality is not unique to Cambodia, but it is clear that its origins
are not restricted to slaughterhouses, legal or illegal.
Although butcher and "Sausage-King" Rolf Lanzinger, owner of Danmeats on
Street 214, agreed that poor hygiene at some of the slaughterhouses was one reason
for poor quality meat, he said another important factor was the way it was handled
in the markets.
The result of combined poor practices, the Post asked? "Most Cambodians suffer
from chea puah [bad stomach]," he replied.
A cursory glance at one of the city's legal slaughterhouses, many of which are sited
in residential areas, raises questions of basic hygiene. Butcher Chor Cheng, who
works in Steung Meanchey, said that he needs a shot of rice wine before killing an
animal. Only then does he have the energy and courage to do his job.
After a cow is killed a worker collects its blood in a pail, guts it and processes
the carcass. This can last between 45 minutes and one hour, and the worker earns
around $2.50. This takes place while the carcass lies on a concrete floor, a departure
from international standards which require it to hang from the ceiling. After the
animal is skinned and carved, buyers inspect the meat on site, or have it delivered
by moto or on an open trailer.
Despite the rusty hooks and the absence of tiled floors and walls, the Khmer method
of slaughter does not inherently make for unsafe meat. Government inspectors make
daily visits to check that the slaughterhouses adhere to minimum hygiene standards.
The meat that passes is stamped with a purple mark.
Meat sold in the market, where retailers, such as the Central Market, is hung in
the open, often in 35-40 degree heat. Customers regularly handle the chunks until
they find one that satisfies.
One retailer, Kean Chong, who has sold pork for 20 years, said she had to clear her
stock of meat each day before going home.
"Sometimes I stay at the market until noon; other times until as late as 5 pm,"
Danmeat's Lanzinger, however, said he was less certain about hygiene habits of some
"The meat hangs outside sometimes until 5 pm. Then if it is not sold, it is
stored in an icebox overnight, then put out again the following morning. This is
the really dangerous part," he said.
He added that the country was at a disadvantage as many of those educated people
who knew about hygiene had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, although awareness was
coming back slowly.
A carcass is prepared for the table at a city slaughterhouse.
Meat inspector Hong Sokhieng monitors the Boeng Salarng slaughterhouse. Each night
he inspects around 20 cows and 70 pigs. He said that in his three years working as
an inspector, he had not found any particularly dangerous diseases.
"Vets determine that the animals are in good health before they arrive,"
he said. "If the cows had contracted anthrax, they would have died on their
way to the slaughterhouses."
Tom O'Connor, manager at the FCC of Cambodia, said he sourced meat from trusted local
suppliers or imported it from Australia.
"As long as the local meat is clean and fresh there should be nothing wrong
with using it," he said, although he does not buy meat from the market himself.
Well-cooked beef was quite safe as bacteria could not survive temperatures above
70 deg. C, he said.
Dr Elliott Potter, a veterinarian with 37 years experience, said meat from the markets
was "pretty safe".
Dr Potter, who works for the Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project at
the Department of Animal Health and Production, gave a number of market tips: Get
there early, as the earlier meat is bought, the better its condition; ensure the
meat looks and smells fresh; watch for cuts that attract flies , as flies indicate
that the meat has started to spoil.
He also recommended that customers refrigerate their meat and eat it on the day of
purchase. Lastly, cook all meat thoroughly.
"Nobody is dying from eating meat, but there are a lot of people spending more
time in the toilet," he concluded with a laugh.