The following article was recently printed in the
Barbados Advocate and referenced by the International Food Safety
Network (a Kansas City industry news service associated with the Kansas
State University). It has been reprinted here for your convenience.
AS PUBLISHED IN:
Keep Food Safety in Focus
Web Posted - Sun Jul 22 2007
By Nicholas Cox
There must be greater vigilance at ports of entry to ensure that sub-standard and improperly labelled food products are not allowed to enter the country.
Responding to the recent recommendation by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation that all countries strengthen their food safety systems and become more vigilant with food producers and traders, Managing Director of the Caribbean Food Hygiene Bureau, Marva Hewitt-Heaven, has called for more stringent systems in the interest of consumer health.
"More needs be done at the Port, because we're getting … inadequate labelling and also improperly labelled food," she said, noting that these items should never be allowed into the country in the first place. "It's at the end chain that we are picking up the deviations and not where it should be. Once it comes through the port of entry then the internal market has very little control over it," she explained.
To this end, Hewitt-Heaven promoted increased vigilance at ports and greater education and training for staff in the hospitality sector who make decisions about purchasing food products. She also recommended that the members of the hospitality sector carry out their own audits periodically and to ensure the value of the third-party warranties on the products they import. "Failing that, we're really taking risks with consumer health, because, for example, a poorly-labelled can — you don't know how old that can is, because it may not even be dated properly, or it might not carry any date at all like a best before or expiry."
Hewitt-Heaven, whose organisation is a private sector body that promotes food safety, education and training on the issue of food labelling requirements, and is contracted by the hospitality sector to conduct audits of food suppliers, noted the importance of due diligence for traceability, so that if something was wrong with a food product it could be traced back to where it came from. "And that's what every consumer or every business needs to ask itself — do I have internal systems that can really take me back to where this product is manufactured?"
She noted that often labels fail to provide the country where the product was made, the contents, or were labelled in foreign languages, and these products were frequently found in Barbados. This could be even more problematic because of the dependence on tourism in this country; "We cater to an international market, an international clientele. If you look at our main industry we are about tourism, and so the hospitality sector is one of our most high earning. One case of food-borne illness can blow a company's profit entirely and so it is critical that we actually see [increased] food safety."
She added, "There needs to be some sort of turnaround as to objectively looking at the gaps and to actually take some action to fill those gaps in the interest and health of the consumer. What we have to do in Barbados is ensure that every single supplier who we are importing from knows that we have systems and we're asking questions and we want written data to back it up, and that we're doing some tests ourselves."