Unlabeled food products are a hidden danger to all of us. When there are no labels, consumers are at risk of getting ill while the health authorities are not able to trace the origin of the tainted products. It is hard to believe that in this modern age there are so many packaged food products sold from shop shelves in Belize without any labels.
Food safety is a serious subject. Food producers owe it to their customers to identify themselves. And the supervisory agencies should take every possible action to ensure that buyers receive good quality products for their hard-earned money. However, when one walks the aisles of many shops it can be seen that there are many items on sale without ANY labels including baked bread, plantain chips, ideals, bottled drinks, meats and others. This makes one wonder about the quality of the product.
Labeled or “branded” products give buyers and the health authorities information about where that product was produced and by whom. This identification is important in the event of an individual food-borne illness or mass food poisoning (God forbid!). If such a case should occur, identifying the origin of the product could result in quickly stopping the spread of illness to the wider public.
By and large, the majority of food producers in Belize need to be applauded for labeling their products. The quality and presentation of some packaged foods produced in our country is so good they easily qualify for export and competition internationally. It’s an important achievement for a small country. However, all producers need to be treated equally and held to the same standards to improve our food safety.
Aside from the safety factor, “branding” of products has also helped to maintain the longevity of some companies. I remember Cayo companies from back in the 1980’s such as Big-H Juices, Running W Brand Meats, Gabela Peanut Butter, Western Diaries Milk, Torres Bakery and Fruit-a-Plenty that always had properly labeled products. Today, many of those companies are still around; profitable and providing equally good products as back then. Of course, their products still carry labels consumers know they can trust.
Perhaps through the joint action of BELTRAIDE, the Health Department and the Bureau of Standards, an education campaign can be launched. It should encourage food producers who are not already doing so to label their products. In today’s modern world of computers and colored printers, labeling can be done inexpensively on almost any product. In some cases, such as fresh peanuts and baked bread sold from shop shelves, simply slipping a paper with the producer’s contact information into the bag is sufficient.
Labels provide identification and a degree of consumer protection. Taking action to ensure all producers label their products is the first step forward if we are serious about improving food safety domestically and creating more competitive products for international export. Not taking any action, on the other hand, means thousands of Belizeans may be putting their health at risk by consuming food from unlabeled packages on shop shelves that cannot be traced back to the original producers.