The Ministry of Health through its Food and Drug Department is currently on a mission to address the problem of inappropriate labelling and packaging of products intended for human consumption. Failure to adhere to the recommendations of the Food and Drug Department in this regard could see inspectors preventing defaulting products from being marketed altogether.
Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, at a press conference at the Ministry’s Brickdam boardroom on Saturday, said that when the packaging styles of some products are considered there appears to be no thought about sanitary conditions. He noted that the efforts that have been engaged are simply an attempt to ensure that only high quality, safe products are available to consumers.
The Minister speculated that there is the possibility that consumable products that are packaged in a questionable manner could be contaminated. “They (products) may not be pure because people could mix them with other things,” said the Minister, as he displayed some food items that the Food and Drugs Department has been closely examining recently.
According to Minister Ramsammy, failure to purchase properly labelled and packaged products could render the authorities incapable of tracking the source of such distributions. “What is this?” questioned the Minister as he displayed a clear plastic package of what appeared to be powdered milk. He highlighted that there could be other products with similar appearance that are dangerous, adding that without labels persons could mistakenly procure items. “People need to know that goods must be packaged in a certain way,” the Minister asserted even as he noted that milk for instance can lose its potency when it is repackaged. He explained that milk should be stored in a type of package that does not cause it to be exposed to light.
For this reason, he said that the Ministry will continue to discourage vendors from presenting unlabelled goods while at the same time work towards enlightening consumers. In fact, he revealed that law demands that packaged products have labels on them and “we are going to be more vigilant from the Ministry of Health’s side.”
However, the Minister admitted that his Ministry has not, and perhaps never will have, in the immediate future, the human resources to be checking every shop, market or every vendor to ensure that products are presented in an acceptable manner. Pointing to the fact that no country is so capable, the Minister stressed that such challenges can only be adequately addressed if consumers are a part of the enforcement process.
“Today’s (Saturday) briefing is really to get people to think that packaged goods need labels. Whenever you go and buy packaged goods you should try not to be procuring goods that are packaged in a manner that have no labels.”
Moreover, the Minister said that there is a necessity on the part of vendors to adopt the practice of properly labelling products even if placed into alternative containers. According to the Minister as the country develops, new and good practices will emerge even as other practices surface which can sometimes pose great danger.
He noted that while the repackaging of products maybe intended to make products more affordable to consumers, it is imperative that proper labelling follows.
“Some of the vendors are making a real good effort…I commend people for doing these things but I don’t think people realise the dangers all the time. When you repackage say what it is and the contents in terms of nutrients; consumers need to know that,” the Minister insisted.
However, even with labelling, the Minister said that there have been instances when consumers have been misled. Pointing to a can of evaporated milk, the Minister said that “this thing says cow milk but it is not really cow milk; it is a mixture of cow milk, vegetable oil and other things…it is not real cow’s milk so it is misinforming people.”
Additionally, the Minister said that labels should clearly indicate the distributor of products including where it is manufactured as well as an expiration date. This, he said, would enable the relevant authorities to track products should something goes wrong.
The Food and Drug Department had some months ago commenced an initiative whereby it has been meeting with vendors and importers of food products as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics with a view of educating them as it relates to labelling. In addition, Minister Ramsammy revealed that efforts have been made to reach and educate groups of consumers.
The sensitisation efforts, he said, are set to be bolstered with a television programme which will see officials from the Food and Drug Department, utilising at least 10 minutes to highlight all of the necessary details of various products. “This is educating the country…This is not about trying to be bad to anyone…In the process consumers and the law enforcement, in this case the Food and Drug Department, will be working together to make sure that stores, supermarkets, shops and vendors are all following the rules.”
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