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Jun 26, 2001

Health inspectors crack down on groceries

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If you look closely at virtually all of the imported foods sold in Belize– everything from corn flakes to hot dogs–you’ll see a combination of letters and numbers printed on the packaging. That sometimes obscure code is a date after which the manufacturer indicates that the product can no longer be guaranteed fresh and wholesome. Well, if shoppers have not been checking the fine print, one group of zealots from the Ministry of Health has. News 5′s Jose Sanchez reports that what they routinely find may surprise you.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

They range from the big modern markets like Brodies, Romac’s and Save U to the smallest back-a-town shop. But what they all have in common is a periodic visit from the Public Health Bureau. According to Senior Public Health Inspector Gerald Williams, they have received numerous complaints lately about several stores in Belize City that have been selling out of date goods.

Gerald Williams, Sr. Public Health Insp., Min. of Health

“We are doing our routine supermarket inspection and Extra House was the first establishment we visited for this week. There was quite a number of unwholesome and unsound food we ever move, precisely it was approximately seventeen carts, which is approximately a pick-up load which you have seen yesterday.”

But that was only day one. Today the inspection team visited several businesses including Bennicio Store on Amara Avenue and Century Company on Vernon Street.

John Bodden, Public Health Insp., Min. of Health

” What we have here is an unlabeled item. Under the food and drugs law, this is not able to be sold because the content that is in this can is questionable then. The ingredients, the expiry date, the quality is not on this can. So nobody can guarantee what is in this can. So anybody who would be found selling such an item would be punishable by law.”

Inspector

“These are not good. See, November twenty-ninth, 2000.”

Jose Sanchez

“It’s really important to check the expiration date of everything before you purchase them. For example these noodles expired in 1998.”

It is clear that most supermarkets, if not, all have violated some laws. That’s why Williams believes there are a few tips that shoppers need to pay keen attention to.

Gerald Williams

“Consumers need to remember that when they move into the Supermarket or the grocery store or any food warehouse, they need to ensure that the food they’re purchasing whether can food, pack food or bottle food, ensure that it is not expired or the expired date is not close at hand. You need to ensure that the can is intact, both ends are not swollen, you need to ensure that it is not badly dented. You need to ensure that there is no leaking content, there isn’t excessive rust. These are the things that they need to look at in can foods. And as for pack foods they want to make sure it is not damaged it is not bitten by or gnawed by rodents.

The policy of the Public Health Bureau is not to take anyone out of business, who are in the food trade industry. Our purpose is to help them to stay in business, providing that they are providing a good service and of course we are concerned about health.”

Though they have noble intentions, not every shopkeeper is content with the presence of the inspectors.

Gerald Williams, speaking to proprietor

“The procedure is now, when we move in to do our inspection, when we remove these unsound and unwholesome food stuff, when we do all of this and we go and destroy, the following day, which is tomorrow, all the paper work will be finished.”

It is a normal procedure for the goods to be taken away and the store owner would be provided with a certificate stating that the products had been destroyed, however this doubting shopkeeper decided to help the process by destroying some of the packages himself. Nevertheless, the guidelines dictate that they still must be removed from the premises.

Mark Bernard, Public Health Insp., Min. of Health

“If we have adequate storage facilities we would normally store these goods at the Public Health Bureau Office at the Old hospital or sometimes we take them right away to the dump. There are times when the food, depending on the nature, starts to smell. As a matter of fact if you would notice the truck it is smelling bad, so in this case we would take the goods and destroy them right away.”

Remaining true to their word, today’s condemned goods were taken to mile eight on the Western Highway where a tractor first crushes then buries them. The destruction of the goods does not really solve the problem because the expired products would not be on grocery store shelves if there weren’t consumers willing to purchase them. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to take a good look at the food we put in our bodies–and those of our loved ones. Reporting for News 5, Jose Sanchez.

Health inspectors aim to visit each food selling establishment around four times each year.

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