Lifestyle

Making Food Safety a Habit with the Food Hygiene Bureau Jamaica

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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In my recent presentation at the Observer's foodie seminar, I gave some insight on the importance of making food safety a habit in ensuring the maintenance of personal and public health. One key takeaway from my presentation was the need for food production and service entities to pay closer attention to the delivery of the food safety message. Effective training and coaching were highlighted as key factors in behavioural change within our food service employees which will eventually result in food safety techniques becoming more habitual.

During a recent search for a training institution to provide me with the tools I need as a young food safety professional, I stumbled upon the Food Hygiene Bureau. After detailed conversations with the reps at the company, it was evident that they have been and will continue to be an asset to the food service industry, providing an additional space for employees to gain required knowledge on food safety. I was also pleasantly surprised that upon interviewing the CEO, the same issues we have been discussing in this space over the past few months kept resurfacing, and today I am more than happy to share their message with individuals seeking options for internationally recognised training.

Marshalee Valentine (MV) What is the Food Hygiene Bureau?

Marva Hewitt (MH): The Food Hygiene Bureau is a one-stop shop for all your food safety training needs. We offer training, consultancy, inspections in food hygiene and health and safety especially tailored for you. We are a registered training centre offering internationally recognised food safety certification to the food industry. Our courses will equip your team with the knowledge and skills necessary to build confidence in your business.

MV: What are your views on the status of food safety in Jamaica?

MH: I believe Jamaica, like other countries, is challenged with providing the consumer with a consistent and safe food supply. Food security and food safety are critical elements of our model that must be recognised by our leaders and there must be a food plan that addresses these. Recent data shows Jamaica relying on imported food supply although the Government is promoting the consumption of domestic grown food which includes “seed security”! The reliance on imported foods increases the risk of food safety as it relies on a knowledgeable and trained employee and decision-maker to be able to make informed choices. Greater burden is also placed on the farm-to-fork approach which relies on records and documentation (HACCP) to be implemented. This is a world-wide known system that should be promoted and mandated by the Government for all food service entities as it entails the proactive control of food hazards starting with training and education of the workers. The resources to provide a safe food supply is a challenge for many businesses that do not have a budget for proactive training of food service workers. The food handlers' permit, whilst being mandatory, is a basic programme that should be viewed as an awareness in food hygiene and therefore it is left to the decision-makers, often human resources departments, to recognise the importance of training that is commensurate with the worker's job tasks.

MV: Do you think there is a gap in the knowledge base of employees in the food service industry?

MH: We believe there is a huge gap amongst our employees in the food service industry; our fast food, restaurants and hotels where workers are often engaged with a basic food handlers' permit issued by the ministry of health and is then promoted through experience but without the knowledge often achieved through formal training. The food service industry culture is on food presentation and taste so quality plays an important role. However, there is data to show that food poisoning is caused through poor training and practices and employee behaviour must be influenced for change to reduce risks of food hazards through poor personal hygiene, contamination of food through proper storage and preparation practices. Food safety includes food hygiene, and failure in food hygiene leads to contamination of food which is one of the main causes of food poisoning. Jamaica lacks a tracking system which could provide valuable data on food-related deaths, illness and injury through food. The industry lacks a risk rating system that could assist in the internal improvement of best practices and reward food business for their efforts. This system would also provide confidence to the consumer and help them to make informed choices.

MV:How do you think we can close that gap as a collective?

MH: At present it is difficult to understand who is responsible for food safety in the island as this function appears to be separated between different entities eg the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) and the Bureau of Standards; all with some level of involvement in food premises. However, it is the environmental health officers in the Ministry of Health who are involved in enforcement within food services and with some elements of responsibility in food premises. However, the Bureau of Standards has been in the forefront regarding responsibility in processing plants which include domestic and export compliance, training and education of food workers and also enforcement within these entities. There appears to be a crossover between the Bureau of Standards and Ministry of Health and it is not clear the role of the MICAF, which includes the Food Storage Prevention Infestation Division. This system does create confusion as critical elements of food safety seem to be watered down, leaving the food service industry without the necessary controls which, in my opinion, should include a food hygiene risk rating award system similar to that which can be seen in Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Canada and USA.

In my opinion, there is a need for restructuring of the division responsible for food enforcement in Jamaica so that focus can be given to provide the Jamaican consumer with confidence in the status of food premises inspection frequency and a complaint body within the Ministry of Health. I believe the responsibility for food safety must rely on everybody in the food chain and with the consumer through the provision of labelling and a complaint body that can follow up and take enforcement action with accountability for timely feedback. Jamaican food safety requires a one-stop statutory model with the Bureau of Standards which should be independent in monitoring standards enforced by the environmental health body which presently is enshrined within the Ministry of Health. I believe the Ministry of Health should lead in monitoring and disease control and leave the environmental health department to focus on controls and enforcement in food premises. Food safety is everybody's responsibility and we believe in adopting a farm-to-fork approach in education. We also recognise the need for all stakeholders to be engaged in the process of improvement and the Food Hygiene Bureau has been one of the main stakeholders for FSMA education to RADA and exporters in the island.

MV:What role does your organisation play in promoting and maintaining a culture of food safety in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean?

MH: The Food Hygiene Bureau is a learning institute for equipping food businesses across Jamaica and the wider Caribbean with internationally recognised training and certification for food service and all engaged in the preparation, storage, handling, and service of food. We recognised the importance of our local food and restaurant cuisine that is critical to our consumers, export and tourism industries both in the domestic and overseas markets. Our organisation leads in the provision of training through our workshops that can be tailored to the needs of the food service and processing sectors. Since 1999, we have been providing hands-on training, coaching, inspections, audits and consultancy to new and existing businesses across the region, catering to their specific needs in food safety, helping their businesses to grow through the knowledge and expertise of their workers' education. We place emphasis on world-class standards as this is the benchmark for the hotels and for export firms. We recognise the challenges in priority for food service workers' education as this is not mandated above the basic food hygiene permit and it is left to the discretion of the decision-makers to determine and allocate budget for food safety and hygiene training. On the other hand, we have legislation and regulations around firm readiness for the export market and the bureau is prepared with our range of consultants and food experts on FSMA, ISO9001, ISO 22000 certification to support this sector. The Food Hygiene Bureau prides itself on being in partnership with several internationally accredited bodies, including the FDA, to offer internationally recognised certification in training through workshops, conferences, symposiums and coaching. We consider our organisation, and the services provided to our target audience, critical to the survival of our tourism and export market.

MV:You will be hosting one of the Caribbean's leading international food safety conferences. Tell our readers about this event and how they can participate.

MH: If you are a decision-maker in the food safety, export or tourism fields, then this conference is of special interest to you. Positioned as a premier educational experience, the 8th International Food Safety and Security Conference will be held at the Iberostar Resort in Montego Bay, June 11-12, 2019. You can get the latest information about best food handling practices as well as regulatory aspects of food coming from afar or locally produced foods being sent to international markets. Attendees can include farmers, producers, agro-processers and manufacturers, individuals from the food service and hospitality sectors, educational institutions, hospitals, retailers and caterers.

The theme of the conference is “Caribbean Preparedness… Regulatory Perspectives 2020 and Beyond”. International speakers from Canada's University of Guelph, India, the USA, and UK are on the agenda. Highly esteemed guests include keynote speakers, Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, and Dermon Spence, permanent secretary of agriculture. Certificates in professional development and internationally accepted certificates (or recertification) are available to food managers for those who wish to sit the proctored exam.

Contact the Food Hygiene Bureau by calling 1(876) 665-3920, or send a message to the conference group at info@foodsafetyconferencejamaica.co. http://www.foodsafetyconferencejamaica.co


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