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Major health safety threat discovered

Government authorities have intervened to stave off a likely health and food safety threat across the island’s fisheries sector.

Acting manager of the Bridgetown Public Market, Sherlock King, told a Press conference at the Fisheries Divison on Princess Alice Highway this morning that major deficiencies in fish handling had been observed at some of the country’s eight facilities, which, if not addressed urgently, could cause an outbreak of foodborne illnesses in Barbados.

Following up an earlier revelation by Senior Superintendent of Markets Israel Kirton that even though 90 per cent of vendors had undergone intensive fish handling training last year, they were not implementing the standards, King said fish temperature abuse was one of those failings.

King also cited other “substantial” deficiencies as the reported sale of spoilt fish, use of unsanitary equipment and containers [supermarket trolleys, disused chemical drums and buckets], unsuitable packaging materials, poor fish handling practices and poor personal hygiene.

He told reporters that officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries were not intent on putting vendors out of business, but needed to intervene to ensure all the necessary local and international sanitary and food safety standards were practised for the protection of consumers and their well-being.

“One of the important things that we must look at is that the whole objective is that we must introduce measures aimed at reducing or preventing fish contamination or fish microbial growth,” the market manager suggested.

“And to achieve this,” the Government official added, “we must start at the level of the fishing vessel. Fishing vessels must be designed in a hygienic manner which would allow for the hygienic processing, handling and storage of fish onboard the fishing vessel.

So, as long as you are going to look at having hygienic operations at the starting point where the capture takes place, it is important that the fishing vessels are hygienically designed and that those persons involved in the catching of fish do so in a hygienic way. And do so in a way that you can at least mitigate the growth of micro organisms and contaminating the product itself.”

King announced that the Ministries of Agriculture and Health were now behind a major project, which would assist in developing modern food safety systems at fish markets in Barbados as part of their intervention in nipping any possible foodborne outbreak in the bud.

Government, through a National Agricultural Health and Food Control Programme, he pointed out, was procuring the services of consultants to prepare sanitation standard operations standards and standard operating procedures and manuals for public markets, fish handling sites/vending operations, as well as communications strategies.

“The National Agricultural Health and Food Control Agency . . . has embarked on a number of initiatives for various ministries in Barbados and they are working very closely with Markets Division and Fisheries Division to do a number of things.”

“One of the things that NAHFCA has done relates to one: they’ve hired a consultant to do some sanitation standard operating procedures and sanitation standard operations procedures are a set of procedures that are what we call, prerequsite programmes, something that has to be in place for other food safety measures to build upon,” King declared.

He stated that sanitation standard operating procedures would include the safety of water, ice, personal hygiene, employee hygiene and pest control.

“These operating procedures are there for persons to follow. It is a statement of the company . . . .

“I am following these things, so that I can mitigate against causing a food borne outbreak, or food borne illness. Once we are using water to process our fish, it must meet that quality [World Health Organisation],” the acting public market manager insisted.

He made it clear that the penalties for those breaching these standards would include the seizure/removal and destruction of unsanitary fish from public markets or other approved places.

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