Editorial | Improving food safety
The announcement by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) that local lettuce is safe ought to give some assurance to the public in light of reports of E. coli bacteria-tainted romaine lettuce in several regions of the United States.
Further, the recent ban on imported romaine lettuce by the Ministry of Agriculture reminds us that much of our food is imported and that there is an awesome responsibility vested in the agencies that are charged with food-safety management to ensure that the products on the market are safe and wholesome.
Global marketing and cross-border trading relationships mean that goods from various countries are likely to reach our shores, and there has to be constant vigilance to keep members of the public safe. For example, rising levels of lead have been detected in spices, and seafood imports have been found with mercury.
So from time to time, dangerous products do enter our markets, and goods are occasionally not labelled to indicate where they were produced or grown, and, indeed, the period of manufacture or harvest.
This latest recall of romaine lettuce in the United States follows closely on the heels of an earlier recall in summer when the outbreak was traced to infected animal faeces coming in contact with field workers.
As Jamaicans prepare for the biggest annual feast over the Christmas holidays, it is likely that imported items of all stripes will appear on market shelves.
Vigilance is required but not merely in relation to food products. There is usually an uptick in sales of electrical items and toys during the Yuletide season. We submit that there is an urgent need for the authorities to beef up import inspection, especially in relation to food, appliances, and toys, and to get tough on violators. If defective items are found, they should be removed from shelves and warnings posted immediately.
Parents, too, should be alert to the toys they purchase. In this Internet-savvy world, it is very easy to find out what other people are saying about these items because product reviews can readily be accessed. There are also detailed accounts of various toy recalls in North America over the past decade. The majority of these were linked to choking hazards and chemical contaminants, including lead paint.
Are we robust enough?
People will feel confident if they are served by a robust food-safety system that includes issuing recalls and notifying the public about outbreaks and providing guidance and training for restaurants and cooks, with the ultimate goal of protecting public health.
Street vending deserves some of the spotlight in this discussion because roadside cookshops have become a popular feature of life in our country.
The World Health Organization defines food hygiene as the conditions and measures adopted to ensure safety of food from production to consumption.
Cookshops and streetside food outlets require monitoring to ensure that these operations are clean and safe and conducted in a hygienic manner, including the proper disposal of waste generated by their businesses and storage of food items.
Failure to abide by legal regulations such as having the required food handler's permit should be sharply sanctioned. Harmful germs cannot be recognised by taste, smell, or detected by the naked eye, but their impact can be deadly.