Food safety is one important area of focus as Cambodia continues to improve its regulatory framework surrounding consumer protection. Last year, the new Law on Food Safety set out the main principles to regulate the food sector, providing general rights and obligations of food businesses and requirements for food products traded in Cambodia.
Then in the first months of 2023, two implementing regulations were issued to clarify the overarching principles of the Law on Food Safety, as well as its enforcement mechanisms. The adoption of these enforcement-related regulations is once again a clear signal to the market that the Cambodian government is taking the enforcement of consumer protection laws seriously.
Food Surveillance, Seizure, and Recalls
The first of these implementing regulations was Sub-Decree No. 13 on the Conditions, Formalities and Procedures for Food Surveillance and Seizure, dated January 6, 2023 (SD 13), followed the next month by Prakas No. 080 on the Forms and Procedures to Seize Unsafe Foods or Foods Not Complying with Technical Regulations, dated February 22, 2023 (Prakas 80).
These implementing regulations give clarity on how the authorities will monitor and inspect the food sector, and in what cases the authorities may resort to recalls or seizure of foods. Prakas 80 also provides the necessary paperwork for both inspecting officers and companies to use when reporting on unsafe foods to authorities and the public. Lastly, the regulations further clarify the obligations for food businesses and the penalties for noncompliance.
The Consumer Protection, Competition, and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CCF) of the Ministry of Commerce takes a key role as the main enforcement authority under the regulations. The CCF receives reports on unsafe foods, manages voluntary recalls, publishes warnings to the public regarding unsafe foods, seizes unsafe or otherwise noncompliant goods, and applies the administrative fines and penalties provided under the Law on Food Safety.
Main Obligations of Food Businesses
Under the Law on Food Safety, all parties operating in the food sector, including producers, processors, packagers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers of food products, must meet the minimum food requirements, which apply equally to both imported and locally produced products.
These minimum food requirements include ensuring that food products are safe for consumption, traders are able to trace the food products through their labeling, and businesses cooperate with authorities on food safety issues.
SD 13 and Prakas 80 now clarify these requirements, stipulating that food businesses should have internal standard operating procedures in place. These procedures must allow food businesses to effectively monitor the safety of their products and to swiftly execute food recalls. Interestingly, the regulations allow the CCF to penalize companies that do not have such standard operating procedures in place—even if there have been no issues with unsafe or noncompliant food products.
If food businesses become aware that a food product is unsafe or otherwise noncompliant, they are obliged under SD 13 to report to the CCF, initiate a voluntary recall following their internal standard procedures, and cooperate with any CCF orders.
SD 13 and Prakas 80 also require food businesses to follow recall orders issued by authorities—not only from the CCF, but also from other relevant regulators. For example, certain food products are subject to oversight by the Ministry of Health as well.
The CCF may issue public warnings regarding unsafe foods, but food businesses are required to issue their own notifications too, including to those in their food distribution chain and to consumers.
If a food business does not have an effective trace-and-recall procedure in place, or does not cooperate with the CCF’s orders regarding the recall, the CCF may order or initiate a forced recall and apply the appropriate penalties.
In addition, SD 13 requires responsible food businesses to compensate individuals and companies impacted by a recall of a food product. This may be a monetary compensation or replacement of the unsafe food products with safe products.
Finally, it is important to remember that a key requirement for trading food products in Cambodia, including imports, is Khmer-language labeling. Noncompliance with the legal requirement to use Khmer language may trigger enforcement actions, including recalls as detailed under SD 13 and Prakas 80.
Risk Classifications for Noncompliant Food Products
The regulations prescribe three risk classes of noncompliant foods:
- Foods with serious health and safety hazards if consumed;
- Foods unsafe for consumption but for which the health and safety hazards are expected to be minor;
- Foods that do not endanger consumers’ health and safety but that do not comply with food regulations.
The risk classes influence the requirements for the recall. A noncompliant food product being in a higher risk class would likely trigger a recall more quickly, and the regulations prescribe different outcomes based on the risk classification. For example, the authorities may allow foods recalled under risk classes 2 and 3 to be modified and redistributed, while risk class 1 foods must be destroyed and may not be modified.
This indirectly means that the internal recall procedures that food businesses must implement, as seen in the previous section on obligations, must address these three classes of foods accordingly, and they must differ appropriately based on the risk classification of the product being recalled.
Penalties and Potential Business Interruption
SD 13 and Prakas 80 refer to the Law on Food Safety for applicable administrative fines and criminal penalties.
On the administrative side, fines for noncompliant foods generally range from approximately USD 500 to USD 5,000 per violation, with the fines doubling for some repeat offences. Actions by the CCF may also cause business interruptions. The CCF may temporarily halt trading, close trading locations pending investigations, temporarily seize products for further investigation, or resort to suspension and eventual revocation of licenses, including product registration licenses and even business licenses.
Criminal penalties apply to trading expired foods or trading foods with the knowledge that the foods contain harmful substances in excess of permitted levels. In addition to fines ranging from approximately USD 250 up to a maximum of USD 100,000 per criminal violation, punishments may include imprisonment from six months to five years.
The potential criminal penalties may become more severe based on the consequences of the violation. Violations that cause serious harm to a consumer’s health and safety—or the permanent disability or death of a consumer—are punishable by fines of USD 50,000–100,000, imprisonment for five to fifteen years, or both.
The Importance of Compliance
The adoption of these implementing regulations signals the strong likelihood of subsequent enforcement efforts. The regulations set out clear procedures and formalities for the CCF, which is clearly empowered as the enforcement authority for these latest food safety regulations in Cambodia.
In the past, food-related laws in Cambodia set out obligations and penalties for noncompliance but were left without clarity on enforcement. This hindered authorities in enforcing the penalties, as they were uncertain on the scope of their powers, the forms to use, and the procedures to follow. With these regulations focusing on enforcement and delineating the role of the CCF, enforcement efforts related to food products are likely to increase substantially.
Businesses offering food products in Cambodia should take note of these new legal developments and ensure full compliance for their products by seeking expert advice when necessary, including on labeling and advertising. For instance, failure to comply with the Khmer-language labeling requirement—which many food businesses have still not yet fully complied with—could lead to enforcement actions and recalls under SB 13 and Prakas 80. Local specialists can also assist by coordinating with local distributors on recalls and other issues.
By ensuring the compliance of their products, food businesses active in Cambodia can avoid interruptions due to enforcement efforts, and avert costly penalties that might threaten the viability of their business.
For further information, please contact:
David Mol, Tilleke & Gibbins