The head of the island’s oldest farm group has demanded that health and safety monitoring be strengthened on imported food.
James Paul, chief executive officer of the Barbados Agriculture Society, made the call in response to the alert by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs about the outbreak of E. coli from romaine lettuce in the United States and Canada.
“Barbados needs to ensure that it carefully scrutinizes those products that are imported from aboard to ensure that those products imported from aboard do not pose a health threat to Barbadians,” said Paul in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a consumer advisory after several people fell ill in North America after consuming some brands of Romaine lettuce. The CDC linked the outbreak to a particular strain of E. coli bacteria – E. coli 0157:H7, which causes severe diarrhoea.
Local health authorities today issued a strong caution to Barbadians not to take any chances with Romaine lettuce.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness advises the public that Romaine lettuce originating in the USA should not be consumed,” a ministry statement said.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness further advises the public that if they suspect that they have Romaine lettuce originating from the USA stored in their refrigerator, that they bag the lettuce, along with any food that it may have come into contact with, and discard these items. The refrigerator should also be cleaned before being restocked.”
Officers of the Environmental Health Department were monitoring lettuce originating in the USA to block them from sale to the public “until further notice”, the health ministry said.
Paul suggested the testing procedures for produce should be updated to ensure that food imported into the country was safe for consumer consumption and followed the guidelines for health and safety. He identified instances where imported products were retailed while near expiry and also expressed concerns about the labelling of goods.
“Sometimes you have food that comes into Barbados and not a word of it in the English language . . . . These are the kind of things we need to start to ensure are adhered to and that is why those monitoring procedures need to be in place in order to ensure that we are not bringing items in here that present a danger to consumers,” Paul said.
The BAS chief executive complained that while produce such as lettuce were produced here, farmers experienced great difficulty getting their produce on the supermarket shelves and in hotels.
“We need to see greater support with our products on the shelves.
“Some products can easily be obtained here but the reason it is not being grown is because farmers are not sure that when they do grow the products that there will actually be a market for it,” Paul said.
“We try to ensure we follow the best growing practices when it comes to our products so that in many ways we take the precautions to ensure that we grow our products in a very safe way and that they are safe for consumption,” he added.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness said it will continue to work with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to “ensure the health and safety of the public”. [email protected]