One of the reasons many people enjoy “all inclusive fetes” is to partake in the many varieties of food items available. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, most people resort to purchasing foods that are sold on the streets while they either wait for their all inclusive bands to serve lunch or while they spectate "The Greatest Show on Earth" . However, many of us usually pay little to no attention to the safety aspects of the foods we are purchasing. Where it’s coming from? How was it prepared? Is the food we eat during this season prepared from a reliable source? We give these “street food” vendors and party promoters the benefit of the doubt that the foods they are serving to the public are safe and wholesome. However, we can be jeopardizing our health by trusting someone who's only concern is to maximize profits rather than comply with food safety practices. The following are six food safety tips that we can follow to ensure our food purchases are safe for this carnival season.
Ensure food badge is clearly displayed
In order to obtain a food badge applicants are mandated to a two hour food safety lecture that covers the basic in food handling and personal hygiene (Scotland, 2005). Although it is debatable that two hours cannot cover all aspects of food safety, it is still valuable training whereby food handlers will gain some knowledge to ensure they purchase wholesome raw materials and prepare food with some safety in mind. In the hype of all the revelry, no one is concerned about looking for food badges but it should be displayed by the food vendors and caterers. A food badge is the only proof that you are patronizing a “safe” source since individuals with food safety training and certification apply more appropriate food safety practices (Henroid and Sneed, 2004).
Availability of pipe borne water
Many vendors may not provide pipe borne water for their patrons to wash their hands but it is in the best interest if the customer quickly ensures that the vendors themselves have access to water to wash their hands frequently while serving food. Proper hand washing could reduce up to 70% of food borne illnesses because bacteria on food handlers’ hands can be transferred to the food upon contact (Yoon et al. 2008)
Carry around hand-sanitizers
Do not rely on vendors or fete promoters to have your best interest in mind when it comes to your personal hygiene. Always keep a pocket size hand sanitizer in reach since access to a washroom area might be miles away and may require some manoeuvring through a thick crowd. Also, ensure that hand sanitizers remain closed and are stored away from sunlight and high temperatures since these elements could result in the evaporation of the alcohol content in them. Hand sanitizers are about 60-70% alcohol based and this is the main ingredient that ensures the microbial-killing potency of this product.
Ensure separate utensils are used for every meal item
Using separate utensils for every food item ensures that cross contamination of food products does not occur. According to Veek (et al. 1992) in the Compendium of Methods for the Microbiological Examination of Foods, contaminated utensils are one of the major causative factors that occur repeatedly in food borne outbreaks. Vendors must also be mindful that they are serving food to the public that may have individuals with certain food allergies or members that live a vegetarian lifestyle. Thus, it is important that each food item is handled with separate utensils.
Hot foods are always the best option
The most common factor contributing to food borne illnesses coming from restaurant inspections done by Public Health Inspection in the U.S.A is “time and temperature abuse” (Scotland, 2005). Thus, in order to ensure foods are not subjected to spoilage the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that hot foods must be kept hot (above 60oC) and cold foods must be kept cold (below 5oC). Trinidad and Tobago is a country with a tropical climate where temperatures for Carnival Monday and Tuesday could reach to a scorching 37oC. Due to this factor, it may be challenging for food vendors to equip themselves with proper cold storage to hold cold food at safe temperatures for long periods. The best and safest option one can choose to protect oneself from food poisoning is to opt for hot foods. Hot foods could also be a plus on these hot, carnival days since homeostasis would come into play in keeping the body cooler when hot items are consumed on hot days (Stromberg, 2012).
Avoid the use of Pepper sauce and other condiments where possible
Two main reasons for this carnival food tip are;
· Unknown expiration dates
· Length of exposure time
While most condiments such as processed pepper sauce, ketchup and mayonnaises are laden with preservatives such as vinegar and limes (in the case of pepper sauce) to prolong their shelf life, many of these items require cooler temperatures after their seals are broken. One can still take the chance at an “all inclusive fete” with these items since it may just be a 3 to 4 hour stay at the event, however, when out on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday no one would appreciate the discomforts of a constant bowel movement coming in the way of all the “palancing” down the road and unto the main stage. Be very mindful when applying these condiments to food. The safest bet is to refrain from these items especially if an expiration date isn’t visible or if there are any uncertainties as to the length of time these items were subjected to the ambient temperature.
Whether it is having fun at an all inclusive fete or “chipping down” the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, it is your hard earned money that is being spent to have a good time. Don’t spoil the revelry because of poor consumer choices and let’s have a safe and enjoyable carnival season.
Shivam Rampersad (B.Sc (U.W.I), M.Sc Candidate Food Safety and Quality Assurance (U.W.I))