CARPHA urges vigilance on World Food Safety Day

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A farmer packs his produce on the tray of a truck at the Namdevco Farmers Market in Debe. File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

As the world observed World Food Safety Day on June 7, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) highlighted the theme for this year, “Food safety: prepare for the unexpected.”

The agency underscored the importance of collective responsibility in ensuring food safety in light of rising cases of foodborne diseases (FBDs) across the region and worldwide.

A release from CARPHA said foodborne diseases remain a significant public health issue, with one in ten people globally falling ill from contaminated food each year.

This problem is particularly acute in the Caribbean, where tourism and cruise ship industries have reported increasing numbers of FBD cases and outbreaks.

As the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup in May and June unfolds, CARPHA says it has taken proactive measures to ensure food safety.

“The agency has collaborated with both health and tourism stakeholders of the six Caribbean Cricket World Cup (CWC) host nations to strengthen surveillance, early warning and response, laboratory, health, prevention and control and food safety capacity in preparation for CWC and other mass gathering events.”

From February-May, in preparation for the CWC, the agency trained 900 food vendors likely to be selling food at the cricket stadiums and surrounding areas on food safety for food handlers for mass gatherings.

“Additionally, a mass gathering surveillance system was developed and implemented to capture the six internationally recognised potential syndromes, which includes gastroenteritis,” CARPHA said.

CARPHA has trained and certified over 500 people in advanced food safety across nine member states and developed a suite of hospitality, health, food safety and environmental standards.

“Food safety is crucial for supporting economic productivity in the tourism-dependent, vastly culinary diverse Caribbean region,” said Dr Lisa Indar, director of the Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control Division at CARPHA.

To adequately address FBD and food safety, CARPHA is implementing a foodborne diseases program, integrating epidemiological, laboratory, environmental and veterinary aspects for regional and national surveillance and response.

“Its components of surveillance, training, capacity building, outbreak investigation, research, preparation and control, are addressing FBD in a holistic manner to promote food safety in the region.”

CARPHA, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasises the need for readiness at all levels to address food safety emergencies.

Governments have been encouraged to update national food safety emergency response plans, strengthen national food control systems, increase surveillance and co-ordination capacities and improve communication.

Food businesses have been advised to enhance their food safety management plans, collaborate and share lessons learned and improve communication with consumers.