The safety of food for our families


Food safety and security is essential for an island nation like ours that is solely dependent at this time on tourism.

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When businesses or persons within a business take it upon themselves to change the food safety & hygiene rules of the game by not adhering to common practice where food safety is concerned, peoples lives are put at risk, and this is a very serious offence in negligent behaviour.

Businesses that sell food and those that serve food in restaurants and eateries have a very serious obligation towards their customers. What is being sold and served must meet the food safety requirements of the land. Food safety is a shared responsibility.

Over the years, Sint Maarten has built a vibrant dining scene with diverse food offerings. Our local restaurants have garnered international recognition. We are well known in the travel trade for our exquisite cuisine. Despite our size and limited domestic market, we are able to produce award-winning restaurants.

When businesses are cited for breaking food safety regulations, the business in the end will be the one that will loose as customers take their business elsewhere. The public places its confidence in the food sector that they will get quality in return.

Businesses must demonstrate their ability to adhere to all aspects of good food hygiene practices and to establish that its food safety system is working well. Besides maintaining high food safety standards, businesses should also educate the public on food safety.

Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness. Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea that occur suddenly (within 48 hours) after consuming a contaminated food or drink.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US estimates that in the United States, food poisoning causes about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and up to 5000 deaths each year.

Our health inspectors must be commended for a job well done in carrying out their inspections. Their role is to prevent any large scale food safety crisis that could have a negative influence on tourism and travel to the island.

Every shopper should educate themselves about food safety practices when shopping for food. Micro-organisms can contaminate food in damaged packaging; toxins found in mouldy food can cause health problems; and expired food may compromise food safety and quality.

When you go to your neighbourhood supermarket or grocer, and you select with care, the risk of food poisoning is reduced.

Here are some tips to remember when you go shopping: do not buy chilled or frozen food that is displayed at room temperature; select frozen food stored below the load line of the freezing unit to avoid temperature abuse; do not choose canned food that is badly dented or bloated; examine packaged food carefully; when buying meat, make sure it does not appear stale or have off odours.

Ensure that there is no excessive moisture on the surface of meat or poultry. It shows that the food items have not been handled properly. Head for home once you have purchased meat as this cannot be left un-refrigerated for long.

When buying seafood, make sure that it is properly refrigerated or iced and when buying diary products, make sure that the packaging of the diary product is intact, and always check for the expiry date.

All businesses that are involved in preparing raw food ingredients such as cutting of vegetables or slicing meat, cooking, and packaging the food for delivery to third parties, should have proper training in food safety and food handling – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety and management system.

An entrepreneur in the food business, serving/selling good quality food is one half of the story, and to deliver food that is safe to be consumed is the other half. It’s a social responsibility towards the community that a business operates in conducts its sale of products and produce in a safe manner.

Families must feel confident in the safety of foods they are buying – be it domestic foods or foods imported from other countries. The threat of unsafe foods is always looming, and while it is a problem that can certainly be improved, it can be solved.

All stakeholders must work together to keep our population healthy, safe, and well-protected from harm.

Roddy Heyliger