World Food Safety Day 2020 happened on June 7. In the Caribbean region, foodborne diseases continue to increase and have huge impacts on public health and the economy. Thousands of people in the region experience one or more episodes of foodborne illness.
Each year, roughly 1 in 49 persons in the Caribbean (approximately 142,000 persons) will acquire a foodborne illness due to possible consumption of a contaminated food or drink. This number is increased to 1 in 11 persons during the frequent mass gathering events such as carnival, cricket, “limes’, food festivals and holiday celebrations that the multi-cultural Caribbean is well noted for. Moreover, over 40% of the cases are children aged 1-4 years of age.
We all have a role to play to ensure that the food we consume is safe and does not cause damage to our health. Food safety involves all the steps taken from farm to table to prevent contamination and foodborne illness. Food handlers should be vigilant about preparing and cooking food properly, whilst consumers should be aware of safe food practices, foods which may be unsafe for consumption and must practice proper hygiene before consuming foods. It is a shared responsibility between food handlers and consumers. Undoubtedly, food safety is everybody’s business.
In the Caribbean, food borne diseases (FBDs) are an increasing public health concern, as reflected by the increasing number of reported cases and outbreaks of gastroenteritis and FBDs. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) collates a record of reported cases of foodborne diseases for the Caribbean region. Data from CARPHA demonstrates the increasing prevalence of diarrheal illness and ongoing occurrence of FBD outbreaks Data for 21 CARPHA Member States from 2005-2016 indicate that reported FBD pathogens increased by 31%. Salmonella was the most common infection, followed by Ciguatera poisoning, Shigella, Campylobacter and Norovirus.