The hazards of eating a delicious dish
Conch salad is probably our unofficial national dish. The mollusk is pierced from its shell. It is cut up; salt, peppers, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes and limes are added. Those ingredients are the base. Other fruits and vegetables are popular ingredients too.
Conch salad is served in traditional restaurants. It is served at Arawak Cay and at Potter’s Cay Dock. It is served at roadsides.
Consumers don’t get to see their conch salad prepared in restaurants with traditional kitchen set-ups. At some of the stalls at Arawak Cay, Potter’s Cay and especially with the roadside vendors, you do, however.
What is obvious from the food storage and preparation is problematic. We don’t take food safety seriously enough. The summer daytime temperature is comfortably over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We leave conch out in the sun for long periods of time. Too often there is no refrigeration. They are stored in unclean sinks, buckets and coolers.
The people making conch salad are usually doing other things too. They may be serving drinks and handling money. They may be moving from place to place touching everything. Some come back to their stalls to make conch salad and “somewhat” wash their hands with just water. Some don’t wash their hands at all. After being here there and everywhere, touching this and that, they make your food.
In the case of roadside vendors some are serving conch salad with no running water and no electricity. The dust from passing cars disperses on the food.
Outbreaks of conch poisoning should surprise no one.
The Ministry of Health has issued an advisory after an outbreak related to food stalls under the eastern Paradise Island bridge.
The ministry confirmed four cases of Bahamians contracting vibrio parahaemolyticus on Wednesday.
Vibrio is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever.
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands and a team from his ministry visited the stalls at Potter’s Cay, Arawak Cay and other areas yesterday morning to engage vendors on best practices. Food and safety posters were also put up.
The minister assured the public there is no need to avoid eating conch “once the vendors are doing what they are supposed to be doing”.
But that’s the problem. Many don’t.
Government has a role to play here. Bahamians have a role to play.
Health inspectors have to be more aggressive. All people serving food to the public should follow the legal food safety standards. There should be fines for those who don’t. The worst offenders who do not change after sanction should be shut down.
Bahamians have to be more sensible when it comes to where they eat. Do not eat conch salad from places that have no refrigeration and no running water. Do not eat from vendors who do not wash their hands with soap before making your salad. You risk serious infection frequenting such places.
Sands said health officials will visit vendors across New Providence to review practices and spread awareness as his ministry monitors the situation. We hope they are serious about that. In their travels they will see quite a few operations that are clear and present dangers to public health.