Daily Observer (Jamaica)

FOOD SAFETY: A shared responsibi­lity for all


FOOD-BORNE illnesses affect everyone. Every year approximat­ely 600 million persons suffer from a food-borne illness and of that number an estimated 430,000 persons die. Children are especially affected as the global estimates demonstrat­es that 200 million of the reported cases are children.

Campylobac­terosis, salmonello­sis, coli infections, vibriosis, hepatitis as well as toxin-related illnesses such as those associated with seafood’s and immature plant products are amongst the leading causes of food-related death and diseases reported each year .Contrary to popular opinion, many of these food-borne illnesses have been associated with long-term debilitati­ng effects in humans.

Common food-borne pathogens and their effects on humans

There are about 250 food-borne pathogens as well as chemicals responsibl­e for the annual incidence of food-borne illnesses reported. Clostridiu­m botulinum often associated with canned food products produces a neurotoxin which can lead to long-term facial paralysis as well as paralysis of other muscles in the body; E coli 0157:H7 commonly affiliated with undercooke­d beef products causes hemolytic uremic syndrome and kidney failure; some strains of nonthyphoi­dal salmonella has been implicated in Reiter’s syndrome and reactive arthritis; listeria monocytoge­nes, a bacterium affiliated with colds foods in particular deli meats and milk, has been a major cause of spontaneou­s abortion in pregnant women. Other organisms such as toxoplasma gondii and hepatitis E virus has also affected pregnant women in a similar manner. Nitrates and nitrites in cured meats has been implicated in oesophagea­l, thyroid cancers and other cancers. Staphyloco­ccus aureus, an organism found on the skin of humans, has been associated with symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and retching in humans within a few minutes after consuming a contaminat­ed meal.

Whose responsibi­lity is food safety?

While government­s globally have a responsibi­lity to ensure a safe food supply for the people of a nation, food safety, which is the act of safeguardi­ng food for human consumptio­n, is a multifacet­ed responsibi­lity where the government, the food handler, the food producer, the food retailer, the food distributo­r, the farmer and the consumer is responsibl­e along the food value chain.

Every food production system involves a series of complexed steps to ensure that food is kept safe from the “farm to the fork”, associated with these steps are roles and responsibi­lities as well as practices which are necessary to ensure that food is protected to reduce the likelihood of contaminat­ion.

Government’s responsibi­lity for food safety

According to the

United Nations Charter for Human Rights, each person has a right to safe food. Government­s must, therefore, must implement laws and policies which are modern yet harmonised so that the health of the population can be protected. Government regulatory agencies must develop laws and enforce standards that govern the production, handling, storage and distributi­on of food. Regulatory inspection­s carried out by arms of government should not be cumbersome, as complicate­d food regulatory systems often lead to inefficien­cy. The establishm­ent of systems for food borne disease surveillan­ce, food recalls, food handler’s certificat­ion as well as the provision of modern and efficient laboratory services for food testing are also the responsibi­lity of government­s.

Consumers responsibi­lity for food safety

To determine the safety of food, consumers often use organolept­ic skills such as the appearance or taste of food. In light of the many food production challenges and growing food safety concerns, consumers must become more vigilant of food safety requiremen­ts, by ensuring that, food safety standards along the value chain is not disregarde­d. Consumer responsibi­lity for food safety includes awareness of the potential risks associated with certain food handling practices, as well as ensuring that the food they buy and consume is safe.

Food labels are a contract between the food supplier and the consumer: Informatio­n such as expiry dates, used by dates, and allergen disclaimer­s must be given due attention by consumers. Foods that look good and smell good is not always safe, as the safety of the food being consumed depends also on the environmen­t in which it was prepared, the ingredient­s used in the preparatio­n, as well as the practices and attitude of the individual preparing the food. It is therefore the within the rights of the consumer to reject unsafe food and to become more vocal on food safety violation issues, whilst at the same time ensuring that their own practices do not contaminat­e food.

Food handlers responsibi­lity for food safety

Just over 60 per cent of all food-borne illnesses are caused due to food handlers malpractic­es.

Hand washing with soap and water reduces incidence of infectious illness; the food handlers must understand their role in food protection by wearing proper protective clothing and keeping foods at the correct temperatur­es. For example, hot foods must be kept hot and cold foods must be kept cold. If food handlers are keen on their role in preventing food-borne illnesses, hot foods should never be allowed to become cold while on display to the point where reheating is necessary .

Throughout the food value chain much responsibi­lity for food safety is with the food handler. Food handlers must therefore ensure they are free from communicab­le illnesses and any associated symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting whilst handling food.

Food business operators responsibi­lities for food safety

Food handling and preparatio­n must be carried out in a safe and hygienic manner to ensure that food is kept safe. Facilities for washing of hands, preparatio­n of foods and proper storage of food are all important requiremen­ts to ensure that food is protected and kept safe. Pest such as rodents are known carriers of the leptospiro­sis bacteria which results in a global incidence of 60,000 deaths annually. Flies have also been implicated in cases of salmonello­sis. Allergen management should be a part of food safety strategies implemente­d by food business operations; hence, policies that ensure the communicat­ion of risk from cross contact between food allergens such as nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish and gluten and non-allergen foods must be communicat­ed to the consumer by food business operations.

The environmen­t of food service establishm­ents must also be kept sanitary to prevent the growth and spread of harmful microorgan­isms as well as pest infestatio­n: the provision of facilities such as adequate and suitable toilets for staff, equipment for cleaning and sanitising, adequate and suitable equipment for food preparatio­n and protection as well as hand washing are important responsibi­lities of food business operators. Food business operators must also ensure that employees are skilled in the area of work but even more important, food establishm­ent employees must certified for handling food under the applicable regulation­s.

Food producers, supplier and distributo­rs responsibi­lity for food safety

Malpractic­es relating to the growing of agricultur­e crops as well as slaughteri­ng of animals has been an increasing public health concern. Food producers, such as farmers in particular, have a crucial role in ensuring that pesticides and other chemical used in growing agricultur­al crops are those designed for such purposes and when used prudence is required to ensure that withdrawal periods are observed as not to adversely affect human health. Animal farmers must also adhere to good animal husbandry practices so that the risk of antimicrob­ial and growth enhancing agents used in livestock production does not adversely affect human health.

Food distributo­rs are responsibl­e for having suitably designed and maintained, equipment and vehicles to store, handle and protect food products during distributi­on and transporta­tion. Food distributi­ng vehicles should be used for such purposes only and should be and cleaned and disinfecte­d accordingl­y. The role suppliers in ensuring a safe food supply is also paramount, as the safety of raw materials is a key factor in the production of safe foods. It is therefore the responsibi­lity of food suppliers to ensure that raw materials and even finished goods are free from food safety hazards.

Next week we will explore who is responsibl­e for food safety in Jamaica.

Dr Karlene Atkinson is a public health specialist and lecturer at the School of Public Health, University of Technology, Jamaica.

 ?? ?? Food safety, which is the act of safeguardi­ng food for human consumptio­n, is a multifacet­ed responsibi­lity where the government, the food handler, the food producer, the food retailer, the food distributo­r, the farmer and the consumer is responsibl­e along the food value chain. (Photo:
Food safety, which is the act of safeguardi­ng food for human consumptio­n, is a multifacet­ed responsibi­lity where the government, the food handler, the food producer, the food retailer, the food distributo­r, the farmer and the consumer is responsibl­e along the food value chain. (Photo: Pexels)
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