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Abstract

The traditional approach to food safety management in the Caribbean has been the establishment of legislation to regulate the operations of the industry. While this has had some impact on improving the level of food safety, it has proven to be inadequate in achieving the desired results. In many of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, the legislation has not been updated for decades and in some cases countries legislation from the mid 20th century still governs the operations of food enterprises. Countries have, for a myriad of reasons, failed to continuously update their regulations in what is a dynamic industry. Even where appropriate legislation exists, many have not allocated the necessary resources to monitor and enforce the legislation. There is also a lack of physical infrastructure, primarily accredited testing laboratories, to support this approach to food safety management. While legislation is absolutely important for the control and improvement of food safety management practices, it is not the only available mechanism. Many countries have failed to use the power of consumers to improve food safety management practices. This market led approach can significantly reduce the demands on government resources. It requires that consumers be aware of critical food safety issues and make their purchasing and consumption decisions with this knowledge. This requires appropriate public awareness and education programmes throughout society. If consumers demand higher levels of food safety management, then this can be much more effective in forcing a change. It can also be more cost efficient. A study of food safety perceptions among consumers in Trinidad in late 2005 revealed that most consumers are not satisfied with food safety practices at food outlets. Further, they have little confidence in those public institutions charged with the responsibility to ensure that safe foods are produced and sold to consumers. Their greatest concerns lie with the road-side vending, a typical practice in the Caribbean. There is a strong sentiment that the authorities are not doing enough to educate the public on food safety issues and that appropriate regulations are not in place. In spite of these concerns, and their recognition of poor quality practices, many consumers continue to purchase food from these vendors. While these results are specific to food vending, there is every reason to believe that the sentiments also apply to the food processing industries. Through education and awareness, consumers can force both manufacturers and food vendors to change their practices. The power of consumers was demonstrated recently in Trinidad and Tobago when an outbreak of aspergilosis occurred in the poultry industry. With the potential pandemic from bird flu being a current concern, consumers became very wary at the very mention of a disease in the poultry industry. The result was an immediate and significant reduction in consumption of poultry products. One can imagine the effect on food safety management practices if consumers were to react in a similar manner to poor practices by processors and vendors. The need for government regulation and enforcement will be much less.

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