Millions of eggs are produced in Barbados every year but Barbadians are generally not eating enough of this food item.
This is the assessment of one of the island’s leading egg producers, Trevor Gunby, who tells Barbados TODAY there needs to be more education about, better handling of, and more appreciation for the product.
Gunby is the General Manager of the Chickmont Foods Egg Division and has been in the industry for the past 25 years.
“I would like to see, first of all, Barbadian people eating more eggs. Eggs are the cheapest form of protein,” said Gunby, adding that it was also a versatile food item.
“I would like to see Barbados self-sufficient in eggs and Barbadian people eating more eggs. They should appreciate eggs. A lot of people do not appreciate eggs and they don’t consider it food,” he added.
The Chickmont Egg Division, which currently employs 30 people full time, produces about 60,000 eggs per day. Besides the obvious increase in egg sales for producers if residents consume more of the product, there are health benefits, Gunby pointed out.
The hospitality and bakery industries are the single largest users of eggs in Barbados, and from time to time egg producers have to import to meet demands, especially around peak seasons such as Christmas and Easter.
Gunby wants to see the days of Barbados importing eggs come to an end. He explained that imports were sometimes done to meet demands if a local producer decides to end operation or take a break and does not inform the association or other players and no measures were immediately put in place.
“The other farmers could probably pick up some of the slack but when you don’t know [it creates the need for import]. And the thing you have to understand, we are very tourist oriented here. If I am a visitor coming to Barbados and I already pay, you can’t tell me ‘I don’t have eggs’. I would tell you sorry, we have a problem, because I paid you already,” he explained.
“We don’t need to import eggs in Barbados if all the egg producers would operate and communicate with each other,” he said.
With the Easter weekend mere days away, egg sales are expected to spike in coming days. Gunby said he was prepared, while sharing that business overall has been generally favourable.
The Chickmont Egg Division has the capacity for 120, 000 birds, and prides itself on having a number of health and safety measures and certifications in place.
“We have a safety committee. They would meet and discuss [issues] and if they have a recommendation, they would bring it to me and I would consider it,” added Gunby, who pointed out that the company did not have a high turnover of employees given the amount of training they have to undergo and their comfort level at the facility.
Turning his attention to the care of eggs from their production to the time they are consumed, he said if mismanaged, they could easily cause illness.
Gunby explained that eggs should be kept at specific temperatures if they were being stored for more than 24 hours, though pointing out that fresh eggs could stay out of the fridge for “up to 48 hours easily”.
The ideal temperature for eggs after that is between 38 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If you go lower than that they would start to get firm because you start to freeze them, and you don’t want that. And if you go higher than that, it starts to get warm,” he explained.
Though generally satisfied with how industry players care for eggs, and while he believed smaller producers of the items as well as roadside vendors who sell eggs have a place, Gunby believed that education is important in ensuring certain high standards are maintained.
“You can’t say you are doing A and you do what you feel like… For some people, an egg is just an egg… so you need to wash them, chill them and maintain it,” he advised.
He explained that the lack of traceability among very small scale egg producers could prove challenging for the industry if something goes wrong, and that was a major concern for him.
“Let’s say you are a small farmer, you have 100 birds and you are producing 80 eggs a day, I am the customer who comes to you and say I want 400 eggs. That means you have to stop selling your eggs for five days, so by the time you bring your eggs to me the first 80 are five-days-old. So it is a problem,” he said, adding that praedial larceny was also an ongoing challenge.
He further explained that there could be a domino effect if egg producers were not careful in how they manage their operations.
“If you are growing your chickens and selling to your friends and family that is fine, but once you start selling to supermarkets and other places where people are going to come and buy, you must have traceability,” he advised.
“Just imagine you have 500 fowls and they come down with a virus and you don’t know. But you are selling the eggs and a person bought some and got sick – it is not only affecting you, it is affecting me because everybody will go off eggs,” he explained, adding that this could result in job losses and even the closure of some businesses.
At the Ridge, Christ Church factory, the production process takes up to three hours from the time the eggs are collected to them being placed in the chiller. Once collected, the eggs enter the production line and are washed and sorted according to size, go into trays and into the baskets, tagged and then placed in the chiller before being shipped out to the consumers.
Gunby has some tips for householders on how to store their eggs this coming Easter season and always.
“You need to put your eggs in the correct location in the fridge, not in the door,” he said. He explained that the eggs being stored in the door of the refrigerator meant that every time that fridge door was opened the eggs were being “shocked” by the difference in temperature.
“When you buy a dozen eggs and you take them home, you should put them in the bottom of your fridge. It is the coolest part. You can’t put them in the freezer because they will expand and break,” he said.
While eggs are a good source of protein and other nutritional value, if not managed properly there can be a number of health challenges including diarrhoea, Gunby warned.
“It is the little things that make the big difference, like making sure you have the right temperature for your eggs, making sure you store them right. Make sure when you take them out you use them. Don’t leave them on the counter and get distracted and go out and come back one o’clock or two o’clock in the day,” he warned. (MM)