Bureau of Standards: From the horse's mouth
Anthony Hylton, Guest Columnist
The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has laboratories in the science and technology and engineering divisions. The S&T laboratories include chemistry, microbiology and packaging, non-metallic and materials. All of these laboratories are in service.
The chemistry laboratory became the fourth food-testing laboratory to attain accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 for test methods and foods manufactured for local and international trade. The Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC) accredited nine of the food tests, namely:
- Gross weight; drained weight in canned processed foods
- Head space in canned processed food
- Percentage acidity in vinegar
- Percentage acidity in juices
- Percentage acidity in sauces
- Hypoglycin A in canned ackees in brine
- Brix in syrup, sauces, jams, jellies, marmalades and chutneys
- pH in sauces, juices, marmalades and seasonings.
Accreditation of this food-testing laboratory is a critical step to maintaining access to the markets of our existing trading partners (for example, USA, Canada and the EU) and in gaining entry to new markets. JANAAC (on behalf of Jamaica) is a signatory of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Arrangement, to which 69 other countries are signatories. Being part of this arrangement opens the door for Jamaican food products to enter these markets based on the premise 'Test once - accepted everywhere'.
The microbiology and packaging, non-metallic and materials laboratories are currently undergoing assessment for accreditation.
The engineering laboratories include mass, dimensional, force and pressure, flow and volume, AC & DC energy, energy efficiency, thermometry, appliance testing, metallurgy and civil, among others. Accurate measurement of masses (weights) is very critical for many common everyday activities.
It should also be noted that the quality systems in the temperature, mass, dimension, and flow and volume are regionally recognised within the Americas.
During the last fiscal year, the BSJ received resignations amounting to 6.7 per cent of its staff complement. Of the 14 resignations received, nine persons relocated because of migration and the remaining five left to secure better opportunities. All these staff members left for personal advancement and or to fulfil family obligations.
Additionally, the bureau, since this fiscal year, received resignations from two serving technical staff members who left due to career advancement within the private sector. Two additional resignations from non-technical staff were received to date. The total resignations represents 1.9 per cent of the staff complement, which remained the same since the last fiscal year.
From exit interviews conducted, none of the staff expressed dissatisfaction with the company as the reason for their departure.
The BSJ continues to check products such as safety matches, paint, shoes and clothing, plastic furniture, car batteries, tyres and safety equipment used in the construction industry. We continue to test samples of all of these products throughout the year, and where there has been non-compliance, the products have been withdrawn.
Compliance levels have increased over the years. BSJ inspectors monitor both the domestic market and the ports to ensure that products being imported are compliant with the applicable requirements. This is done to ensure the health and safety of the public. The trend for compliance in both areas has been 97-98 per cent.
Just recently, the BSJ received commendation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representative's for the advances made in inspection and has endorsed the BSJ team to conduct surveillance inspections on its behalf. To date, the FDA has conducted a total of 35 inspections (four fresh produce, 31 processed foods) in Jamaica since the enactment of the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), with no regulatory action having been taken against any of the food firms.
Jamaica was lauded by the FDA for its commitment to food safety and is one of only three countries engaged in the 'shadowing' of the FDA's inspectors. The 'shadowing' of FDA's inspectors by the bureau's inspectors was done during the May-June inspections of 18 processed-food facilities. Where non-conformities were detected, the bureau's inspectors conducted the follow-up inspections, providing evidence to FDA as verification of corrective actions having been taken. These follow-up inspections meant that the FDA inspectors did not have to return to Jamaica to conduct reinspections, for which the FDA could charge the firms (at a rate of US$302 per hour).
When technical staff members who have primary responsibility for any area demit office, the BSJ has employed internationally accepted practices to deal with the verification of products quality. These practices include:
- Type testing - previously approved models undergo this process;
- Third-party certification of product quality - internationally accredited laboratory results. This approach is used for new models and has been used for previously approved models as well.
The BSJ is unaware of any incident of appliances being damaged in the dwellings of anyone. Given this, the BSJ cannot speak to the 'glasstop stove issue' as it was not brought to our attention. However, when issues like these come up, the BSJ has established procedures to handle this matter.
In fact, resulting from the BSJ's vigilance in the marketplace, we were able to routinely check and detain fans for testing. These fans were found to be substandard while undergoing testing and a public recall was done. This was communicated through major news houses. In fact, The Sunday Gleaner of June 29, 2014 published the notice of recall in its print and electronic paper.
The BSJ continues to work assiduously to monitor both the ports of entry and the domestic marketplace in fulfilment of its mandate. This has resulted in additional containers (which was sent after the recall) of the said fans mentioned earlier being detained at the ports of entry.
The BSJ is alarmed at the report that most of its 35 inspectors are not travelling officers. The fact is, approximately 70 per cent of our inspectors are travelling officers.
The current management is of the view that travelling status should be accorded to all whose job requires it. This status was accorded to this group previously but was rescinded in 2001. We are in the process of reversing this wrong and are now but approximately 30 per cent away from this desired position.
What is also true is that only eight inspectors currently use the BSJ's bus system.
While the BSJ is one of the regulatory entities with responsibilities for the enforcement of standards within the food industry, it is not the primary agency with responsibility for the monitoring of food-borne diseases. This is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Health. We continue to work with the Ministry of Health on matters that either entity feels could threaten the health and safety of consumers.
The article referred to an incident that occurred in 2010, and for this issue to be raised in this present context demonstrates a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. Although the event predated the current Standards Council, it is understood that the BSJ pulled together a multi-agency team, which included law enforcement. That team visited the premises and shut down the operation.
G. Anthony Hylton is minister of industry, investment and commerce. Email feedback to email@example.com.