Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ministry of Health confiscates hundreds of expired goods as part of routine inspections


With hundreds of businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores and bars thriving on Ambergris Caye, San Pedro Health Inspector Horris Patten is tasked to inspect each establishment three times per year. In an effort to ensure consumer safety, hundreds of expired perishable and nonperishable food items have been confiscated since the start of the year. On Thursday, June 22nd, The San Pedro Sun received a report that a truckload of expiry goods were seized after a local grocery store was inspected.
Health Inspector Patten explained that food safety is taken very seriously at the Ministry of Health (MOH). “We conduct inspections randomly. Whether or not it is through a report or complaint, we make sure we are visiting these establishments to make sure they are in compliance with the food safety laws of Belize. Once we carry out an inspection, we look at all of the products, and remove all of the expired, damaged, dented, swollen, and rusty items,” said Patten.
Patten states that he continuously warns these establishments to refrain from keeping expired food and other commodities in their business. “I try to educate these businesses to the best of my ability, and I am still trying. We try to encourage them to put these items on sale, or give it at a discounted price before it expires. I even gave them another suggestion that they could notify their own employees about the products to be expired, and give them the benefit to purchase the items at a reduced price. It’s more sensible to have a sale rather than letting it become expired, and having the MOH confiscate it. These establishments need to adopt better business practices. This would alleviate food from being thrown away and wasted. So many people in this country don’t have anything to eat, and it’s sad to see so many establishments waste food,” said Patten.
While some establishments are guilty of either selling expired foods, damaged goods, or even tampering with the expiry date labels, Patten reiterates that selling these items is against the law, and should not be displayed for sale. “If an establishment is noncompliant, they can certainly be taken to court. Although the fine is just $250 per offense, they can still be charged. However, there are many cases where the business owner and I reach an agreement, and the MOH removes all of the expired/damaged goods from the premise,” said Patten.
Patten wants the public to understand that there are significant reasons for both expiration dates and “best before” labels. “Expiration dates are placed for a reason. It indicates that the product is safe to consume on and before the printed date. “Best before” usually pertains to dry goods, and signifies that the product has the best taste, quality, and nutrients by the given date,” said Patten. He further debunked the popular idea that expired goods are still consumable six months after, and discourages the public from purchasing these items.
He further stated that expired food poses a health hazard. “The reason all establishments should adhere to these laws are because they are compromising public health and safety. Anything expired puts you at risk for food poisoning. Refrigerated or precooked foods, canned food, mayonnaise, and salad dressings are among high risk foods. This can be harmful to humans and can cause several diseases. The expired foods contain bacteria, which is dangerous and could lead to serious consequences if consumed,” said Patten.
The MOH also takes the opportunity to encourage the general public to become more cautious when purchasing foods. All items should be thoroughly inspected for its quality, and should be properly sealed. “There are many customers who are in a hurry and go and grab. We need to be responsible as well. We need to ensure that whatever we are buying is in wholesome condition, and consumers should check the expiry date before purchasing any said item,” said Patten. Shop owners are also encouraged to purchase more of what is regularly consumed and less of what is not in demand.
For more information on food safety, or if you have a question, concern, or a complaint, please contact Horris Patten at 622-6548.

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