Caribbean Currents: Third world gets short end of the stick on food safety

January 28, 2018 GMT

Are third-world countries getting the short end of the stick when it comes to food safety? A story published in early 2017 in the Jamaican Observer gives an account from Lisa Hanna, a member of the South East St. Ann Parliament.

She described how she put the rice on the stove to cook and it was hard and did not seem to be cooking at all. No matter what they added, it never cooked but seemed to get puffed up. The consistency was much like a melting candle. The end result is that they did not have rice for dinner that night.

What they did have was a substance that they were able to knead. They rolled it up and bounce it like a ball. Needless to say, it was not edible.

This incident was not isolated. After several reports to the local government, the Jamaica Customs Agency was brought in and it stopped clearance of rice at all ports. JCA investigated and was unable to identify the source of origin. For a period of time, the agency only allowed rice from Guyana and Suriname to be imported and sold to the locals. It collected samples in the area where the product was purchased but the samples tested negative. No plastic found.


There are several agencies in the Caribbean that oversees Food Safety. One such agency is the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency. CAHFSA seems to be more focused on safety of exported foods than that of imported foods.

On its website, the agency states that “the major regional markets including the European Union and North America are demanding that the safety and quality of food products reaching their markets be equivalent to or at higher levels as those produced in their own regions.”

According to the agency, poorer developing countries of the Caribbean Community region either lack safety measures or the measures that they do have are totally inadequate. This has created a monumental problem for these small economies. Heightened public interest and awareness of the consequences of food borne-related illnesses will put pressure on government agencies to be more diligent about creating agencies that will put more laws in place to prevent food-borne illnesses.

With increased media coverage, consumers are showing more interest in how their food supplies are produced, processed and distributed. Calls have increased to alert the authorities and force them to accept greater responsibility to ensure food safety and to safeguarding public health which will lead to the development of trade. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees foods imported into the United States from other countries, so no one here has to overly concerned about contaminated foods from the Caribbean.


CAHFSA has found that when a food safety issue did arise in the Caribbean, food hazards could be linked to improper agricultural practices, poor personnel hygiene, chemical misuse, contaminated water supplies, contaminated raw materials and lack of preventative controls at the various points of the food production.

Imogene White, a naturalized American citizen who resides in Delaware, said that she could remember a food scare back in the 1970s.

“I had a very traumatic experience as a child when 17 people who lived a few miles away from my home died suddenly,” she said. “These deaths occurred in St. Thomas, Jamaica, and I tell you that here are no words that could truly describe the fear that was felt in the entire town.”

She further detailed how the number of people being admitted to the area hospitals began to rise and no one knew what was happening. The health department did a thorough investigation and zeroed in on one common factor: all of the sickened people ate foods that included flour. They learned that a ship delivered flour from West Germany and this shipment was contaminated. The flour was stored in a container that previously transported parathion, which is a deadly insecticide.

“I can’t remember a scarier time in my young life,” she said. “My father assured me that I was going to be ok because the authorities tracked down all of the stores where the poisoned flour had been distributed. They seized and disposed of it.”

She ended her story by saying that she was happy to learn that there were initiatives being taken in regards to food safety in the Caribbean but more had to be done. The government needs to give the same amount of attention that is giving to exported goods to protecting the local population.