Hundreds flocked to the recent three-day Green Field and Food Fair at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA) in Phnom Penh to explore agricultural products and test their knowledge on food safety.

The highlight for many was the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) booth, which stood out from others showcasing produce and processed agricultural products. Participants eagerly scanned a QR code with their smartphones, answering questions about food safety for a chance to win prizes.

Ngun Sok, a 20-year-old first-year student at RUA, was drawn to the booth by the crowd. Curiosity piqued, he ventured inside and learned about the FAO-organised quiz offering prizes like notebooks and materials on food storage, safety, contamination and avian influenza. Eager to test his knowledge, he decided to participate.

“Participants took the quiz, which consisted of five to six short questions testing general knowledge, long-term food storage and food susceptibility to contamination,” he tells The Post.

“The inclusion of such quizzes within events like this one is refreshing and valuable. By fostering interactive learning about food safety, they promote public awareness and should be widely adopted,” he adds.

Knowledge leads to healthy habits

Pheng Sokhat, a 22-year-old student at the RUA’s Faculty of Fisheries and Aquaculture, believes that answering the questions was an opportunity to learn more about ensuring health and preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases.

“Taking the quiz served as a valuable learning experience concerning food handling practices and maintaining health,” he says.

He shares concern about limited awareness of food safety due to insufficient publicity efforts.

He explains that despite awareness campaigns by ministries, institutions and local organisations, some communities and families remain uninformed about the risks associated with food-borne illness.

Ol Kunthim, a student from Kampong Cham province, found answering questions at the agricultural fair particularly beneficial as it provided immediate learning and practical experience, considering the fair also showcased a diverse selection of agricultural products.

“It makes us understand how to live, protect our health, practice clean living and maintain good hygiene habits,” she says.

Ley Sophea, a 20-year-old veterinary medicine student from Takeo province, saw the quiz as an opportunity to step outside his comfort zone and experiment with new knowledge, underscoring the importance of trial and error in the learning process.

Initiative raises awareness

Sophea says that despite being widespread, food-borne contamination often goes unconsidered. Examples include coughing or sneezing near food, saliva exposure during speech, handling food with unwashed hands or having open wounds while preparing food. 

“Participating in the quiz, regardless of the outcome, offers valuable learning opportunities. The provided materials equip participants with essential knowledge to prevent food-borne infections and ultimately contribute to public health improvement,” he says.

Ung Bo Ratana, a private company general manager who participated in the quiz, says the experience brought to light knowledge gaps she previously had, particularly regarding bacterial and insect transmission through food.

“The quiz, particularly beneficial for non-agricultural students, serves as a valuable tool for understanding food safety practices and protecting oneself from food-borne illnesses,” she says.

Thong Ra, a food safety expert at the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), considers incorporating food safety questionnaires into community events an effective tool for raising public health awareness and alerting individuals who may not be fully cognisant of the risks or consequences of food-borne infections.

“While not a nationwide programme, this initiative effectively raises awareness of food safety among participants and incentivises engagement through a question-and-answer format with the potential to win prizes,” he says.

He notes the surprising gap in food safety awareness, where many incorrectly believe it only applies to food containing chemicals.