Standing next to her grill in the small wooden kitchen behind her house, dressed in a matching hat and apron, Mrs. Dy Kloeung is busy preparing a local delicacy. As she fans away drifting wood smoke, she reflects on how different her cooking and life has become.
I’m Mrs. Kloeung is one of the food vendors selling food to garment factory workers in Kandal province, not far from the capital, Phnom Penh. Like many other vendors, Mrs. Kloeung used to pack food that she had prepared at home into plastic bags for convenience, as workers have only one hour for lunch.
“In the past, I packed the hot food in plastic bags or containers and brought them to the factory for sale. I didn’t know it was bad for workers,” said Mrs. Kloeung.Mrs. Kloeung was not unique in this regard. Very few food vendors were concerned about the cooking process. They focused on how the food tasted as it was the only factor workers considered when buying food. They didn’t realise that leaving food out at room temperature could allow dangerous bacteria to grow and make workers ill.
“At first, food vendors didn’t cook their food in hygienic manner. Some food vendors had dirty kitchens and food waste everywhere. Some kitchens were next to the bathroom,” says Mrs. Seng Dany, a factory compliance officer. “They did not store food properly; there were flies everywhere; and then they put the hot food inside plastic containers and kept it for over six hours before it was sold.”
Recognising an opportunity to address the situation, CARE, with financial support from The Children’s Place, began implementing the Healthy Food, Healthy Workplace (HFHW) project, to improve the health of garment factory workers through nutrition and hygiene. CARE is working to improve workers’ knowledge about healthy, hygienic and nutritious food, so they can make better dietary choices. CARE is also engaging with food vendors around the factory to improve the food options available to factory workers and to reduce unhygienic practices. The project also engages representatives from the factory through a food committee who support implementation and monitoring of the activities.
Ms. Phoung Theara, the nurse and food committee member at the factory, says, “when we just started the project, most of the time, food vendors didn’t take us seriously. Our food committee keep trying to engage them with our project and explain the benefits of adapting their cooking and food handling practices. Eventually, committed to work with us.”
Healthy Food, Healthy Workplace introduced nutrition and hygiene training, fun events and campaigns with both workers and food vendors. The project also works with the factory food committees to build their skills in monitoring vendors’ kitchens and stalls.
Mrs. Dany observes, “at first, my management team saw the work solely as CARE’s responsibility, not ours. But after seeing how CARE engaged with workers and food vendors, they allowed me to fully participate. Even during the working hours, we still accommodate the project to implement their activities because it is very good for both workers and the factory. It is a fantastic project in our view and some clients have expressedthat they really like our factory’s performance and commitment.”
Mrs. Phoeun Davy, a garment worker who has worked with the factory for eight years, was one of the many workers who participated in learning about healthy food and hygiene. She said: “I learnt about washing my hands properly, eating more nutritious, food drinking clean water, and about the proportions of meat and vegetables I should eat for each meal.”
“Before I ate without thinking, but now I make more healthy choices. I preferred only meat in the past, but now I choose a healthy balance of meat and vegetables for each meal.”
Mrs Davy added: “After I changed my eating habits, I feel like my health is better. In the past, I fell sick so often. Mostly I felt dizzy and exhausted. I was sick at least five times per month. I cost me around $50 to $60 per month for medical bills. Now no more. I can save much money, up to 50% more than the past.”
Ms. Theara also believes that the total number of people getting sick in the factory has been reduced by about 30%. However, factors other than poor food, nutrition, and hygiene can be attributed to reported cases of illness.
Mrs. Kloeung received training focusing on food preparation and cooking and, received equipment to support more hygienic practices.
By learning how to cook more hygienically, Mrs. Kloeung can provide safer and higher quality food for factory staff. Practices like cleaning her hands properly before and after cooking, wearing gloves, separating raw and cooked food, cleaning dishes, and how to safely pack the foods, can provide a healthier safer environment for everyone.“
The most important element is the monitoring because it can allow us to better understand the food vendor as well as to evaluate their standard of healthy cooking. We need to maintain their high standard to ensure the quality of food.” Mrs. Dany says.
Mrs Theara agrees: “When I monitored them, they keep improving their practices over time after the training. They also accepted additional recommendations from us during the monitoring.”
Mrs Kloeung proudly adds, “When the committee comes to monitor me, I feel so great and happy because I know that they want me to improve my cooking. I believe that training from CARE is good because I now can earn more with my healthy food. In fact I am now selling double what I used to before the project and often get compliments on my food!”
“Even without CARE’s ongoing support, I am committed to continuing my high standard of cooking because I strongly believe that it is good for both my customers and my family.” Mrs. Kloeung concluded.
CARE is seeking to improve the livelihoods of garment factory workers through innovative solutions to everyday problems.