More attention should be paid to food handlers Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
August 4, 2002

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It is hard to believe that there is no requirement in England for all persons who handle food for public consumption to be tested and instructed in personal hygiene. Only persons who handle raw and cooked meat are licensed. Simply unbelievable!

In Guyana there is no law governing the conditions under which food is sold to the public.

However, in Georgetown, the Public Health Department under the Mayor and City Council does stipulate that persons who desire to sell food to the public must first obtain a card.

First, there is a physical examination by a doctor on specified days. Then there is a blood test for sexual diseases and a stool test for salmonella and shigella, bacteriathat spread food-borne diseases.

The Food and Drugs Department is responsible for food handlers in factories and the Public Health Department for food handlers in the markets and on the streets. Environmental Health Officers protect consumers outside of Georgetown. Is there any supervision of persons who sell home-cooked food to supermarkets?

It was explained that there is no law because of the inconsistency of the tests, some days positive and negative on other days.

With the omission of instructions to food handlers on basic hygiene it is not hard to understand why food poisoning is prevalent in England and why consumers rate food poisoning as their No. 1 priority for food safety. More than 4.5 million cases of food poisoning are reported in England every year.

In Guyana there is no system for keeping track of food poisoning. Every now and then one hears of a case. Occasionally cases of food poisoning are linked to food sold or distributed at functions.

With tap water not being available at all hours of the day, it would not be surprising to find that persons do not wash their hands as often as they ought to do. Defrosting frozen foods and then re-freezing them can lead to food poisoning.

Selling food from bags on the dirty road should not be allowed but those who buy from such vendors are to be blamed for not paying sufficient attention to the health of their families and themselves.

It is natural to expect that standards for handling food would be high in a developed country but read this extract from an article "Meat Under The Microscope" in the April 2002 issue of Health Which?

"The market stall that our EHO [Environmental Health Officer] visited - the Gastronomica stall in Borough Market, South London - scored a very poor two out of ten. To begin with, our EHO noted the conditions of the stall - the concrete floor was pointed, making it difficult to clean.

The stall wasn't properly enclosed and had no ceiling - just the roof of the market building which was covered in peeling paint. Our EHO saw pigeons in the enclosed market area, and their drippings in the walkway outside the stall.

"Since the visit, Gastronomica has told Health Which? that the food stall in Borough Market is being refitted.

"During the visit our EHO noted that the food handler's protective clothing was stained and she didn't wash her hands. In fact, there was nowhere to wash hands, or a sink to wash utensils and equipment. A wooden cutting block was being used as a work surface - our EHO said that wooden equipment can be a source of cross contamination. He also noted that the inside of the chilled display unit was stained and greasy.

"When our EHO visited the stall for the second time things had not improved. The food handler's protective coat was again excessively stained and he slid the sliced ham directly onto his hand, which the EHO said looked greasy.

"The food handler advised that the shelf life of the ham was `about a week,' which is much too long, according to our EHO."

Are conditions in our markets any better than those described above?

It is the responsibility of each consumer to pay close attention to the conditions under which cooked and uncooked food is sold and to take action to have high standards maintained.