Minister of Health John Boyce has warned that a major outbreak of food-borne diseases could deal a devastating blow to the Barbados economy.
Citing a 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) report that found an estimated 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die each year from eating contaminated food, Boyce made it clear that as a service-based economy, Barbados could not afford a major outbreak.
“We in Barbados cannot ignore the negative impact that food-borne diseases could have on our socio-economic development. The strain placed on the health care system as well as the harm to tourism and trade industries is too much for a small country to bear. We have to ensure that the food we eat is safe,” he told the Barbados Food Law and Industry Conference 2017 at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa in Rockley, Christ Church on Wednesday.
Boyce gave the assurance that Government recognized the need to strengthen its food safety programmes and initiatives.
Therefore, he said, the Ministry of Health ensured that food served to the public by restaurants, bakeries, vendors and other food businesses is wholesome and fit for human consumption.
“I trust that Barbadians who are engaged in food distribution understand how important it is that these health practices are maintained and in many cases intensified. We at the Ministry of Health will ensure the safety of the island’s food. We need to be mindful that food safety and nutrition are inextricably linked. If food is not safe it is not nutritious, and if it is not nutritious it is not safe either.”
A 2015 World Health Organization report has shown that an estimated 600 million persons fell ill after eating contaminated food, while about 420 000 of them die every year.
Speaking on the theme, What Is On Your Plate?, the Minister of Health said the globalization of trade and the distribution of food presented many opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals.
Described by the global public health agency as the first-ever estimates of the burden of food-borne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals, the WHO report stated that 30 per cent of all deaths from foodborne diseases (125,000) are in children under the age of five, despite the fact that they make up only nine per cent of the global population.
It also said African and South-East Asia regions had the highest burden of foodborne diseases.
“The findings of the WHO’s report highlight the global threat posed by food-borne diseases. They re-enforce the need for collaboration between governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe, thereby preventing food borne agents,” the minister said.
Boyce recalled that a study on acute gastro-intestinal and food-borne illness conducted here back as 2011 had shown that the washing of hands was a crucial element in preventing disease.
He added that one out of every four people who contracted a food-borne disease had not washed their hands before meals.
He also contended that there remained a significant need for education and training on the prevention of food borne diseases among food producers, suppliers, handlers and the general public.