Friday, 06 October 2023 10:07

Food safety expert calls for revamped food handlers legislation after Crab Circle debacle

Rate this item
(0 votes)

THERE IS a call for the overhaul of public-health systems that regulate the country’s food industry after the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department was forced on Thursday to shut down popular food joint Crab Circle over the unsanitary action of a female vendor.

Food-safety specialist Dr Marva Hewitt, described the Public Health Act as antiquated, insisting that it is limited in scope.

“The health permit that we are basing our training on and releasing is not adequate,” Hewitt said.

She said new regulations are needed that officers can enforce, lamenting that they are “stuck” with the Public Health Act.

Hewitt, the CEO of the Food Hygiene Bureau Jamaica, said that the permit “is too general” and ought to be specific to the food being sold.

She said high and frequent surveillance is needed for what she described as high-risk food hubs, beginning with unannounced inspections and testing of food samples.

She called the health department’s shutdown of Crab Circle a knee-jerk reaction that followed the viral video of the vendor wiping her bottom at a food station.

The woman said she drank a beer and was later afflicted with a bout of diarrhoea.

“Mi just wipe and go [over] mi niece go bathe,” she sought to explain.

In a notice posted at the location, the health department said that it was ordered closed “for non-compliance under the Public Health (Food Handling) Regulations of 1998”.

It said that the notice would remain in place until further advised.

Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams, who visited the location, told journalists that the issue was not just about the Kingston facility, which received a $13-million makeover from rum company J. Wray & Nephew in April 2022.

“In our estimation, the facility has improved and has improved significantly. There is always room for improvement, but I would say there are some behavioural norms that we must address,” the mayor said.

There are 10 stalls at the National Heroes Circle-based food hub, which is said to be without restrooms.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in a response to a query regarding the adequacy of the Public Health Act, said that under the legislation, the health authority has a duty to protect the health of citizens.

“Critical to that, of course, is that sanitary measures have to be in place when it comes to handling food. The video that was broadcast across social media is clear evidence of insanitary circumstances and, clearly, would have generated interest and concern, which would have led to an investigation and then the subsequent action taken,” he said.

Tufton said that routine inspections are done at food establishments especially if information is brought to the health authority’s attention.

“Once a conclusion is made – validation of what took place did take place – then they have a duty by law to investigate and to take necessary action,” he said.

But Hewitt is insisting that the issue stems from deficiencies in the act and how food handlers’ permits are issued.

She said that training for 50 or more persons in under an hour and then issuing permits would guarantee a deviation from what is required.

“There’s no measurement. The permit is generic. You get one to make sandwiches, and next thing, you are opening up a lobster restaurant. That’s the sort of thing we are talking about where we need specific regulations to attach to the activities that we are doing, and we also need the documentation and the traceability.

“Persons need to be able to read and write, to document things that they do, to document customer complaints, and also the authorities need to have a database of every single business within the island,” said Hewitt.