Small and medium-sized food enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Cambodian economy. However, the country’s food manufacturing sector continues to face numerous challenges in ensuring that the food processed and distributed, especially by local agro-processors, are safe.
Inadequate resources and expertise remain to be the biggest constraints in complying with a number of food standards and management systems. While there are initiatives being done, there is still a significant gap to be filled as far as knowledge of proper sanitation and hygiene among small businesses is concerned. Compounding this is the lack of accredited agro-processing facilities and food processing technologies in the country. Addressing the issue of food safety also becomes even more paramount as manufacturing SMEs face increased competition to access international markets, especially with stronger food safety systems in neighboring countries.
One attempt to fill in this knowledge gap came in the form of trainings and technical assistance provided by Mr. Song Khenglean, Managing Director of TWM Consultant and a participant in two safe food courses under the Mekong Institute-Food Safety Project (MI-FSP).
A trainer himself, Mr. Khenglean found the regional training programs he attended with MI helpful in developing his competencies as a food safety trainer. “I have conducted trainings for food processing SMEs before joining the MI programs, but I wanted to further develop my skills. Participating in these courses not only enhanced my knowledge and skills but also expanded my professional network, especially with other SMEs and relevant government officials in Cambodia and in the region,” he remarked.
Recognizing the critical need to educate local Cambodian SMEs on food safety, he organized localized trainings on the basic principles of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and Agri-food Inspection and Audit as part of his action plans.
Seeking to help the SMEs improve their facilities and practices based on national and international food standard requirements, the trainings tackled inspection and audit for food processing plants. Mr. Khenglean introduced the 34 SMEs that participated in his trainings to the basic principles of food safety, importance of personal hygiene and plant sanitation, and steps to comply with current GMP/HACCP requirements, as well as food safety hazards and how to properly control them.
Even with years of experience in training, Mr. Khenglean found that implementing the localized courses was both challenging and inspiring. He explained, “Selecting the right participants, designing the program, and fitting the topics into the proposed timeframe were challenging. However, I was inspired with the participants’ high interest in these trainings, their commitment to learn, and their appreciation of the offered topics. Their interest and willingness to share their experiences in implementing food safety programs made it a memorable positive experience.”
And true to form – like a ripple effect – positive actions have sprung from his initiatives. Mr. Tuy Sokneng, team leader of the food safety management team of Leang Leang Enterprise and one of the participants in Mr. Khenglean’s trainings attested, “The training helped me to be more effective in implementing food safety programs, and I use the knowledge I gained to train my team. All of these contributed to the HACCP and ISO9001 certification that we just received.” Meanwhile, the other SMEs have also begun to adopt their own food safety programs in their respective enterprises.
Mr. Khenglean’s commitment to supporting SMEs to meet international and national food standards remains strong. It is his hope that more food safety training programs will be offered to Cambodian SMEs to raise their awareness of food safety management systems, enable them to better safeguard consumers’ health, and subsequently boost food products export.