Grave and widespread public concern is being expressed about the closure of several food service establishments – especially because their identities have been kept under wraps by the relevant authority, namely, the Central Board of Health (CBH).
A notice posted on the Ministry of Health Facebook page yesterday, informed residents of the closure of 11 businesses which were inspected in and around St. John’s between January and April 5th 2019.
However, the ministry did not disclose the names of these restaurants, and social media users have already begun bombarding the post with comments.
The Facebook users are requesting details about these establishments in order to protect themselves as consumers.
One comment read: “This is not sitting well with me. These establishments should be named. It is our right as citizens to know where these violators are and allow me, a patron, to decide if I wish to dine at an establishment that has violations. The Ministry of Health needs to step up and be more transparent. What’s with the shroud of secrecy?”
Officials in the Ministry of Health responded to all the comments, saying the offending establishments will not be named until the enactment of food safety legislation that permits disclosure of names. According to the Ministry, this should be done in six months.
Later, the ministry responded via the same medium, indicating that all the shut-down food places had since been allowed to reopen after being re-inspected.
A month ago, Deputy Chief Health Inspector Daryl Spencer explained in more detail why the names of violators are not made public.
“The food service industry is quite volatile and once CBH intervenes and some dialogue is being had with the manager or supervisor, they move speedily to take the necessary corrective actions. Also, as it stands, a food service establishment does not have to register with us before they open, so the public health inspector encounters them for the first time,” Spencer said.
Spencer also said that not only will CBH be able to publish names after the Food Safety Act is passed, but “with the law, the publishing of the grade of a particular food service establishment and the publishing of those establishments that have fallen out of compliance will be a mandate”.
The press release further indicated that the restaurants were asked to “immediately discontinue the preparation of food for sale to the general public, to enable cleaning – among other major food safety issues – and the suspected food was disposed of”.
This was because most of the food service establishments against whom action was taken had no documentation to show that their workers were trained in food safety, and they also displayed invalid food handlers’ badges.
The government agency further stated that some of the businesses had no handwashing stations, no hot and cold storage containers, and employees were working without protective equipment.
It was also reported that meats were being thawed in tubs of stagnant water; flies, live and dead roaches, rat and mice droppings were found on floors; and Styrofoam trays which once held raw chicken and meat were being used to store ready-to-eat foods such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
CBH, which is tasked with maintaining health and safety standards in the country, has therefore asked owners and operators of food service establishments to be aware and seek advice from the department so that remedial actions can be taken to correct any faulty practices.
OBSERVER media tried without success to contact several officials of CBH for further information on the closures, but was informed that the personnel were engaged in an all-day training exercise.