Caribbean Food Safety Study
“The world is in a battle with bacteria.” This was the view of one of America’s highly respected business magazines, Fortune, bemoaning the dilemma facing America with 48 million consumers becoming sick from food-borne pathogens. It is estimated that it costs US consumers approximately US$55.5 billion to address food safety problems due to various deadly food borne bacteria. The Technological Solutions Limited (TSL) team, led by Jamaican food scientist, Dr. Andre′ Gordon, has been addressing this issue for Jamaican exports of a range of foods to the United States of America (USA), Canada and the European Union, including the United Kingdom.
At a recent presentation of research work done by TSL at the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) in Tampa in July made by Ms. Zoe Gordon, Microbiological Analyst at Technological Solutions Limited, she indicated that people in the Caribbean, which is home to 39.1 million people with a further 28.7 million stop-over visitors in 2015 (the Caribbean Tourism Organization), all expect to get safe, wholesome food. In her presentation, Ms. Gordon pointed to a 2015 Caribbean Public Agency (CARPHA) report which stated that food safety had become a major issue for consumers both in the regional as well as in export markets, with any increase in foodborne illness being a cause for concern. “Although statistics suggest that the number and severity of major foodborne illness outbreaks in the region have been relatively limited, any major outbreak would be of concern not only because of the public health significance for the regional population, but also because of its impact on tourism, the engine of regional growth,” she said. “Consequently, understanding the microbiological profile of Caribbean foods and how this influences their safety would facilitate better planning and management of food safety in the region.,” she added.
Referring to the study done by her organization to bridge this gap, Ms. Gordon said “Very little is known about the conformance of a range of foods with industry standards and how this influences food safety,” In the study, TSL examined data gathered over an 11year period (2004-2014) on a wide range of Caribbean foods and environmental samples from selected production facilities in its ISO 17025 accredited laboratory. The paper, co-authored by Ms. Zoe Gordon, Mr. James Kerr and Dr. André Gordon, is the first report which presented detailed information on the comparison of a wide range of Caribbean foods with international food safety (microbiological) standards and showed exceptional conformance with these standards.
Additionally, Ms. Gordon pointed out that the importance of exports to regional food producers has made compliance with food safety import regulations such as those under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and industry mandated standards a priority. Extensive data to support regional exports and case studies on food safety in the Caribbean can also be found in Dr. Andre Gordon’s new book “Food Safety & Quality Systems in the Developing Countries, Volume II: Case Studies of Effective Implementation”, published in association with the Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Elsevier (Academic Press). Elsevier is known throughout the international scientific community for superior quality content.
In support of Jamaican and regional exports, Technological Solutions Limited (TSL) has been conducting a range of training workshops across the region, keeping manufacturers abreast of the measures to ensure the safety of its consumers which continue to be implemented by the United States under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). A new regulation will come into effect in September this year which could see many Jamaican and other Caribbean firms not being able to export to that market, if they are non-compliant. “This could have significant implications for manufacturers, distributors, food handling operations, farmers, suppliers of food inputs and exporters of food sold in the United States who could lose their markets, allowing other compliant competitors to capitalize on these opportunities,” Dr. Gordon warned. Firms therefore need to ensure they understand the requirements and become compliant. Research work that provide data such as TSL has presented can significantly assist firms in attaining this compliance.
TSL has been providing solution-oriented technical assistance to the SME, private sector and support institutions in Jamaica, other Caribbean countries, Canada, Southern Africa, the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) for over 20 years.