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FEATURE: What we consume…

by Tamara Rodney

If you take a walk downtown to the Bazaar, Stabroek market on any given day, it is vibrant with the vendors’ call for patronage and patrons who beckon to the sound of bargains.

“Get the baby powder hay- hundred!,” called the lady with the brown apron. She stood, with an umbrella in hand and at her feet was a basket filled with some powder. I was taken aback by the price for the family sized bottles of powder and even more shocked at the response she received. People bought the powder even though the items appeared shabby.

Although we are guided by strict food and drug policies in Guyana, consumers are often swarmed with products that violate these guidelines. Sometimes beyond the bargains and cheap prices, are flawed products that can pose health risks. Food, drug and cosmetic products that are inferior, poorly labeled and packaged are usually sold cheaply in our market places, shops and supermarkets. In turn, the bargain- driven customer tends to choose “cheap” over “quality”. More so, people who cannot afford better products also buy and consume these sub- standard goods, in spite of possible health risks, since they are sold at cheaper prices.

The Government Analyst, Food and Drug Department (GAFDD) is responsible for maintaining food and drug standards in Guyana. The GAFDD follow the Guidelines of the Pan- American Health Organisation (PAHO) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) to account for the inspection of premises, issuing of licenses for importation, manufacturing and distribution of these products along with ensuring labeling and packaging regulations.

One of the reasons why there is such a large number of defective products on our market is because some businesses and individuals breach the guidelines on the importation or manufacturing of goods. “One of the things we find is that the small importers are the ones who are the usual culprits. They are known for submitting false documents to the department and sometimes, they don’t even have a bond to store the goods properly. The established and legitimate importers like Ansa McAl, DSL, Neal & Massy would usually comply with the guidelines.”- Director of GAFDD, Mr. Marlon Cole.

The GAFDD also lacks resources to handle the amount of imports and manufacturers operating in the country. “There is an excess of a hundred importers in Guyana who bring products from all parts of the world. Some societies would allow substandard products to be dumped on third world countries like ours, so they would sell these items at very low costs and they end up here. The inability of the Food & Drug department and other regulatory bodies to really execute a policy of policing the market on a regular and consistent basis adds to the problem”, explained Mr. Cole. The lack of human resources also means limited inspection at ports.

Despite the constraints, Cole also indicated that the GAFDD is currently working to ensure that all importers acquire Free Trade Certificates, which shows that the company exporting a product is subjected to their country’s regulatory body. This rule was established by WHO in 1995 to ensure safe and easy trade across borders. Once the local importers have this document the GAFDD can easily verify the legitimacy of the item.

With the large amount of substandard products available in the market, it is important for consumers to take precautions when shopping. Consumers are encouraged to purchase goods with the right labeling. Reading labels and examining the products carefully will help you to select safer products. “A label should provide the brand, example (Sunshine) and common name, example (cornflakes) which  must be displayed boldly on the front panel. Details of the content like weight, volume and amount must also be included. The second panel is where all the ingredients are listed along with storage instructions and nutritional information.The manufactory and expiry dates must also be clearly stated. For foreign labels: an English translation must be provided for consumer guidance”, explained Cole.

The Food and Drug Act, Chapter Chapter 34:03, Part 2 outlines the “prohibition against the sale of harmful, unfit, adulterated and insanitary foods and against misleading representation regarding food.”  Yet, it is common to see items like milk, sugar and several other local products repackaged andsold almost everywhere. Repacking, makes room for contamination or adulteration (which is adding a substance that will deteriorate the product).

Putting a product in reused containers is also risky. “Plastic bottles cannot be sterilized, so when you see recycled plastic bottles with things like achar and pepper, it could be contaminated. This a a common practice in Guyana and it stifles our local agro- processing unit since they will compete with the person who tries to put the proper systems in place”, said Cole. You might want to rethink purchasing that pepper sauce in the old coke bottle.

Coconut water vendors are among the leading perpetrators. They usually stockpile used large plastic water and bleach bottles to sell large amounts of coconut water.

So you are just home from shopping and while unpacking the groceries you realized that an item is expired. What do you do? Do you return the flawed item or take the chance to consume it since you might think it can last a few months more even after the expiration date?

Apart from being illegal, expired products can also be harmful. “Consumers should be aware that after the ‘best by’, ‘use by’ of expiry dates, the manufacturer has no guarantee that the product is still good for usage”- Cole.  However, some people think you can use a product even after expiration. I asked some shoppers in the market and some other folks about this and the responses were mixed.

“ I does buy expired things, like can food because I does get them cheap”, says Tenisha Abdul.

“Expired goods could kill you, I does buy from the farmers”, says Carl.

“It depends on what type of product it is. Generally, I would use something if it’s not way past its expiry date. Like a week within that time but there are some things, like milk, etc. I won’t take chance with. Some items are clearly not good by the time that expiry date rolls by” Sensimeila told Demerara Waves Online News.

“I don’t buy expired things because it could make you sick and I does always check my dates”, Urmilla.

Merlyn: “I don’t buy expired goods because the price difference does only be a five dollar or so.”

“People usually sell expired goods to get it off their hands and I think that they should be charged”, Joshua.

Your best bet would be to use food items and medicines that are well within the guidelines. Although it might be a long way to a rigorous enforcement of the Food and Drug Act, every consumer can do their part to avoid the deviants. Meanwhile, the GAFDD is working on reviving the prosecution arm of the department. We become what we consume, so it is important for us to safeguard what we eat or use. Using expired or contaminated foods, can cause food poisoning, stomach aches and dizziness in some cases.