Put public before profits Dr Boyle tells Food Safety Workshop

(MINISTRY OF PUBLIC HEALTH) – Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) Dr Karen Boyle this week said local manufacturers must not put greed before the health and well-being of Guyanese.

Addressing a Food Handlers Seminar held at Grand Coastal Hotel, Le Ressouvenir, East Bank Demerara (Demerara/Mahaica) Tuesday, Dr Boyle agreed that businesses must earn profits but not while jeopardising public safety.

‘Manufactures must continue to be profitable but not at the expense of the public’ Boyle said.

The one-day seminar which was organised by the Food and Drug Analysis (FDA) Department of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) attracted some 30 participants from local food- manufacturing companies. They were coursed as a part of a menu of measures to qualify for receiving their Food Handlers Identification Card.

This is the first time local food handlers are identified by ID cards. In the past they carried a ‘Food Handlers’ certificate.

In her feature remarks, Boyle indicated that the Public Health Ministry’s vision is to ensure that all Guyanese are among the healthiest in the Caribbean and in safeguarding their health, the Ministry has been boosting health care services in accordance to the social and economic factors which put the health and safety of the population at risk.

“It is our duty, having identified those risk factors,  to work with communities, government, the private sector and individuals to raise public and private sector awareness and to institutionalise polices that protect the consumer and empower the manufacturer to continue to be profitable but not at the expense of the public”, Boyle said.

The DCMO highlighted that even though the MoPH recognises the private sector as the growth engine of any free market economy, the need for profit must be balanced with the need to protect the health and safety of the public.

She said the Government Food and Drug Analysis (FDA) Department is the administrative and enforcement arm of the MOPH under the Food and Drug Act, Chapter 34:03.

Under the 1971 legislation, food manufactures have an important role to play in protecting the health of people by producing foods that are safe, sound, wholesome and that are nutritionally acceptable.  This constitutes one of the preventive aspects of health care systems and will thus lead to the use and requirement of less drugs and medicines in the curative aspect of the system.

In the health protection role, manufactures should ensure that satisfactory standards of hygiene are practised, in all aspects of commerce from the raw materials used through the manufacturing process to the final retail distribution of the finished product.

“For this reason there are codes of practice, standards and guidelines to ensure food safety from farm to food”, DCMO said.

Boyle warned that manufacturers MUST conduct their operation under sanitary conditions, the food should be manufactured, packaged and stored in a building that is maintained in a clean, sanitary and orderly condition free from vermin infestation and accumulated waste or debris.

She encouraged those present to always observe the Five Cs and S which are the basic tenants of food safety.

“We must wash with purified CLEAN water; CHECK expiration dates; Avoid purchasing foods that are CRACKED, bulging or rusty; CHILL the foods requiring refrigeration. We must COOK our foods well, especially our meats; and SEPARATE the raw meat and vegetables when preparing our foods and desist from using the same cutting board”. Boyle said.

FDA Director. Mr Marlon Cole, said that the mandate of his Department is to ensure that local manufacturers and food handlers carry out their functions and responsibilities so as to protect consumers.

“Our philosophy is that it is important for you to know about the aspects of food microbiology, none microbial contamination, fire safety requirement for food factories, pest control, labelling requirement, cleaning and sanitation and personal hygiene”. Cole said.

In his presentation, he asked that participants remain cognisance of the fact that knowing how to grow and handle products safely, store and cook them properly is vital to the health of our consumers.

“Food poisoning often times lead to acute gastroenteritis and diarrhoea and according to the Burden Incidence Report, 2009/2010 coming out of the Guyana, we have a high incidence rate of gastroenteritis and the prevalence is about 7 per cent annually. A persons will come down with at least one episode of diarrhoea incidence per year”.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011 and aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

Under this act, exporting entities will be required to have someone trained as all a ‘Preventative Control Qualify Individual’ who will be tasked with ensuring that the foods produced are protected and free from the micro and non-microbial contamination before export to North America.

Cole told the participants that the Public Health Ministry is expected to lead yet another training exercise to certify individuals in keeping with the US mandate prior to the enforcement of this new rule which is expected in September of this year.

“We are the regulators and facilitator of training, we have to continue our synergy in in working closely together. We have to depend on the MOPH to give the food and drug department support to enhance our ability and capability and capacity to train and to ensure that members in the agro processing committee and those in the manufacturing services are equipped with the information, are licenced to advance our society relative to development, sustainability”.

Cole reminded local food manufacturers about their importance to a country’s economy while underscoring the roles of the food inspectors and the FDA department.

“I want to signal to you, members in the food manufacturing sector; I cannot overstate your importance in our economy but I want you not to look the Food and Drug department as your police, but look at us as facilitators, enablers and off course we will want to ensure that you subscribe to the requirements at your own advantage”, Cole said.