At least two youths have died and 243 others are being treated for vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and muscle weakness after they ate cucumbers suspected to consist of pesticides.
The incident happened on Saturday, said Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Ath Khem.
He told The Post the victims were among 800 receiving drug rehabilitation at the Phnom Bak New Life Centre in Teuk Thla commune’s Phnom Bak village in Serei Saophoan town.
At least one of the victims was transferred by his family to Thailand for medical treatment, while the 242 with more severe conditions were being treated at the Banteay Meanchey Referral Hospital.
Others with less severe symptoms were being treated at the Centre itself.
“Authorities have conducted an investigation and concluded that they ate cucumbers bought from local villagers. We have saved many of them while others are still in serious condition, but doctors are monitoring their conditions,” Khem said.
Provincial Department of Health director Keo Sopheak told The Post that around 70 per cent of the 243 affected had reported feeling better, and that doctors were treating those with less severe symptoms at the centre.
“We did not suspect anything besides cucumbers because the cook bought cucumbers from villagers to make food for more than 800 of them. Some ate a lot and some ate less, so some are in more serious condition,” he said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation’s General Department of Technical Affairs director-general and spokesman Touch Channy said: “We are saddened by the deaths of two youths.
“Some fared better but there are still three others who have not recovered yet. So they are being monitored further.”
Rights group Adhoc provincial coordinator Sam Chankea told The Post he was especially concerned about food safety made in correctional centres and prisons, prompting him to speculate that “there will be more victims”.
“Prisons or correctional centres do not care about food safety. They just think about [turning a] profit and their benefit by saving money when buying vegetables and fruits,” he claimed.
A police report of the incident, obtained by The Post on Sunday, said a cucumber vendor had given the centre four bags of the fruit for free at the time of purchase.
It added that many of the youths chose to eat the cucumbers raw with chilli and salt but most did not wash them first.