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Jamaica Health Tips Online

Protecting the Environment, Protecting your Health

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Springing it from the pipe: the drinking water you pay too much for

Posted on September 9, 2018 at 2:32 PM Comments comments (131)
As the bottled water industry grows exponentially in our Island, so are the lies and deception consumers are fed. Many Jamaicans are being misled to believe that the highly priced bottled water they are consuming is actually natural spring water.  According to a recent study done by Food & Water Watch company titled "Take Back the Tap," about 64 percent of bottled water comes from municipal tap water sources.

The study further went on to reveal that the beverage industry has capitalized on bottled water sale as a profit centre, and to replace stagnant soft drink sale. In 2016, bottled water sales surpassed soft drink for the first time as the largest U.S category by volume. The marketing hype of drinking several gallons of bottled water a day to be in good health, is one of their latest marketing strategies
What most people purchased as natural spring water, is basically filtered piped or tap water. The bottled water industry has promoted its product as the way to good health and a clean diet, as a result targeting health conscious individual. In addition, many skeptics believed that they also subtly suggest that bottled water is superior to tap water during their campaign and advertisements. This is the reason several persons tend to avoid drinking water from the tap and stock up on bottled water.

It’s not that I am saying that drinking water will not improve your health, but misleading people to think that they are paying for naturally pure water is totally unethical. Furthermore, the health implications of drinking bottled water when compared to drinking tap water are mind boggling. Various studies have revealed that, bottled water have been supplemented with certain mineral such as Sodium and Potassium, causing increase levels of these elements that are harmful for people at risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Increase temperatures of bottled water when left in a hot car or other environment, is responsible for the release of antimony from polyethylene terephthalate plastics used for water bottles. Antimony is a regulated contaminant that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even chronic health effects in drinking water. Additionally, over consuming certain minerals like Fluoride can harm our bodies. For instance, levels of fluoride above 1.5 mg/L would increase our risk of dental fluorosis, despite its benefits in protecting us from tooth decay. It is a concern that bottled water contains fluoride levels that are 12% to 218% of the recommended daily intake, much higher than that of tap water (0% to 62%)

Needless to say, that plastic bottles don’t do good for our environment either. Most times these products end up in our drains, rivers and oceans. This creates a myriad of environmental health challenges in our country such as flooding and solid waste management issues. A 2017 study calculated that 18 trillion pounds of plastic has been produced globally between 1960 and 2015, 79 percent of which (about 14 trillion) has accumulated in landfills or natural environment including in our oceans.

In conclusion, deceiving the public to think they are purchasing one thing while being sold something different is never acceptable and is totally unethical.
Where does your bottled water comes from?
Comment below

Early Childhood Institution: keeping the little ones safe.

Posted on September 2, 2018 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (48)

It’s that time of the year again when many new mothers will suffer through what we call separation anxiety asthey drop off their little ones at an Early Childhood Institution. The tearful eyes and tantrum filled goodbyes will make them wish they could spend the entire day. But knowing that they are in good hands and a safe environment will definitely ease the pressure. As we look forward to that time, here are some very important things you should check for at the ECI you will be leaving your child.
An Early Childhood Institution according to the Early Childhood Regulation 2005 means; a place that care for four are more children under the age of six years for more than six hours a day. These institutions include daycare centres, basic schools, infants’ schools’ pre-schools and kindergartens. Almost all Jamaican infants attend an Early Childhood Institution in the first years of their lives; hence it’s very important that they are safe and healthy during their stay.
The infrastructure of these facilities must be secure and sturdy, weather tight to protect infants from rain and sun. It must be adequately lit and ventilated. Floors and food contact surfaces (counters) should be repair to facilitate easy cleaning and a smooth finish e.g. tiles.
 They water supplied to these facilities should be of a reputable source such as the National Water commission. This is to ensure that the water use for drinking is safe and adequate. 
The premises should be equipped with garbage receptacles that meets public health standard to ensure wastes are stored properly. This will prevent fly breeding, rodent’s proliferation and other pests which may lead to serious health implications. 
The physical layout of the premises should be of such that children have adequate play space both in and out the building.
Children at these facilities should always be on the ground floor, away from latch gates and items that may be harmful to them such as pointed edges and chemicals. The premises should consist of a sick bay, changing area, feeding and sleeping area.
Toilet facility must be provided for both staff and children. One toilet facility for every 20 children and one face basin for every 40 children. These should be the height of a wheelchair so children can comfortably access them.
 As parents we should provide the child’s immunization card and other records to prove your child’s well-being before he or she is accepted into the institution.
Staff and children should wash hands regularly, especially after using the toilet facility and before eating and preparing food.
Children should not be allowed to share toys that can be place in the mouth and for other playing items, they should be washed and disinfected on a regular basis. All cribs sheets, pillow slips, bedding and equipment should be washed and disinfected at least once per week.
The facility should be equipped with a fully supplied first aid kit. In the event of an emergency school administrators should have the relevant contact information at hand for the health facility, fire department etc. Additionally, the facility should be equipped with atleast two fire extinguisher is a conspicuous location.
Finally, and most importantly the facility should have sufficient staffing to adequately and comfortably attend to each child.
Children under 1 yr – 1 staff to 5 children
Children 1- 2 yrs  - 1 staff to 8 children and
Children 3- 5 yrs  – 1 staff to 10 children
Staff should be in good mental, physical health, sound and good moral ethics with no prove of any criminal records.
Remember our children are our future; hence we need to protect them today so they will grow to be strong and health leaders of tomorrow. 

How safe do you think your child is at school?
Comment below

One of the deadliest factors most food service operators constantly abuse

Posted on August 19, 2018 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (46)

A super power that most Jamaican seems to possess is the ability to test the temperature of foods with their bare hands. Quite often one would use the back of their hand to test how hot a bottle of feed is or how cold the temperature in the refrigerator is. Funny! But it’s the truth. Despite this practice may not cause tremendous harm in the home setting, when practiced by food service operators it could result in catastrophic health effects on the Jamaican population.

The temperature of food can only be tested correctly by the use of a thermometer. Using a thermometer to monitor the temperature of foods while you process, store and distribute them will give you a clear insight of what is happening to the food. Most food service operators constantly ignore the importance of this instrument in their day to day operation and repeatedly abuse the temperature of the food they prepare.

According to the Centre of Disease Control and prevention, two of the top five risk factors responsible for causing food-borne illness involve temperature control. The risk factors are improper hot/cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous food and improper cooking temperatures of food. Therefore, when negligence is practiced and food is left out in the danger zone, microorganism will start to multiple in the food and rendering the food unsafe.

The range of temperatures that fall between 4.4 degree Celsius and 63.7 degree Celsius are what the food service industry refers to as the danger zone. Food service operators must minimize the amount of time foods are left at these temperatures to prevent food-borne illnesses. The rule of thumb to always remember is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

As it relates to the thermometer, they are numerous types. However, the two most commonly used types are the probe and the infrared thermometer. The probe thermometer is a thermometer that has a pointy metal stem that can be inserted into food. Use a probe thermometer to check internal food temperatures when you cook, re-heat, cool thaw and keep foods hot or cold.  While the infrared thermometer that takes the temperature of the food without coming in contact with the food. Therefore, only the surface temperature of the food that will be obtained.

During a food premises inspection, a thermometer is one device a food service operator is expected to have. This will enable him or her to do their own temperature monitoring of the food they are preparing, as they will be expected to fill out the temperature log of each food prepared. This document is very crucial in an inspection, since the Public Health Inspector will be checking it to asses the safety of the food being sold.
Do you sometimes eat food that is at room temperature? Leave your comments below.

The great controversy: To rinse or not to rinse?

Posted on August 12, 2018 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (4084)

It’s a customary practice for Jamaicans and other Caribbean people to rinse their meats in a mild acidic solution prior to cooking. This cultural technique has been practiced for many years,  and is now causing a great controversy in the food safety community. Many Jamaicans normally practice this technique especially when they are preparing chicken, fish or other meats that have a high raw or animal odour. Additionally, it is believed that rinsing meat in lime, lemon or vinegar water will also reduce the bacteria that maybe present.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended. This is so, because bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. Rinsing or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria., only cooking does.  

Few skeptics are totally against this statement, as they argue that the studies done on these products, did not include the use of lime, vinegar or lemon water, but merely pure water. Having make such an absolute statement they believe the statement is very misleading and may cause more harm than good. Others have even put forth the question that wasn’t the germs on the meat harmful before it contaminates other surfaces? Cooking meat with that strong animal smell and bloody water at 350 degrees is basically cooking and eating 350 degrees of filth.

One reason, this statement is backed by most food safety regulatory body is that, during the washing of meats, spillage from the meat could contaminate kitchen utensils, counter tops and other areas we may be unaware of. Therefore, simply wiping down your kitchen counter will not clean your kitchen to a safe enough level. As a result, while performing other task the possibility of spreading germ to other areas is high.

The on-going debate in the food safety community is one that has caught the attention of many. Some strongly opposing the statement, while the anti-rinsing camp is growing by the minute. In spite of the number of studies done, culturally most persons may find it difficult to do away with this practice. This is because it is arguable that the washing of meat in mild acidic solution does not only reduce germs and rawness on the meat but also adds flavour.
Do you rinse your meat before cooking?

The ugly truth behind the famous five-second rule

Posted on August 5, 2018 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (64)

If you are a Jamaican, then the five-second rule or the three-second rule is a well-known food hygiene concept that you have probably heard of.  The five-second rule is simply picking up food after it has been dropped and thus exposed to contamination.  If the food falls within a five seconds window or less, then the food is considered safe to eat.  But is this customary practice a myth or fact?

According to a paper published in the journal of applied biology, five-seconds is way too long. Microorganisms adhere to food almost immediately when dropped.  After five-seconds, they found that the food had acquire anywhere between 150-8000 bacteria and if left for a minute the number will be ten times greater.
Considering it only takes about 10 bacteria of certain strain of salmonella to get you sick, you probably should think twice before eating foods off the ground. In most instances persons may think the floor is clean because it looks clean but remember we cannot see microorganisms with our naked eyes.

It’s important to note, that the ground is the ideal home for bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms. This is because the floor comes in contact with the bottom of our shoes. As was noted by the University of Arizona, 93% of our shoes are contaminated with fecal bacteria. This therefore means that foods that fall to the ground will instantaneously be contaminated with them.

Interestingly thou, there are studies that show that woman practice the five -second rule more than male as they are more familiar with the rule. Additionally, in some household it is only customary for the five second rule to be practiced in private or around family, however in social gathering, restaurants or when guests are around it is unacceptable.

Foods contaminated with microorganisms can result in sickness or even death. Make the necessary adjustment to only consume foods that are clean and wholesome. Remember your health is your responsibility, be wise about what you eat today.

Did you believe in the five second rule? 

Deadly mistakes most Jamaicans make when cleaning.

Posted on July 22, 2018 at 7:11 PM Comments comments (42)
As I seek to educate the public on critical topics such as cleaning and sanitization of utensils and equipment. I am always disappointed with the little they know about how to effectively clean. Many Jamaicans when asked how they would clean a dirty surface, will tell you they use bleach and soap to get rid of dirt. The shocking reality is, most cleaning agents contain ammonia and other chemicals, which when combined with bleach form very deadly and carcinogenic compounds.

A very common one is known as Chloramine; this chemical is a derivative of ammonia that is formed by the replacement of multiple hydrogen atoms with chlorine atoms. There are widespread reports of health problems from chloramines. Chloramine is a volatile gas that can result in death if inhaled in a confined space, like a shower, closet, or closed garage
Additionally, the mixing of certain detergent and chlorine will reduce its potency. This is because the detergent components become very unstable when they react to bleach and loses its emulsifying property. As for the disinfectant property of the chlorine, it will be less effective in killing some of the most common pathogenic microorganisms you find on the items you clean.

Have you ever experience a bubbling effect when you pour bleach into soap water? This reaction is as a result of mixing an acidic detergent with chlorine. The effects from such reaction are numerous and very severe.  Acids are present in glass and window cleaner, automatic dishwasher detergents and rinses, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners, lime, calcium and rust removers, and brick and concrete cleaners. 

When a product containing acid is mixed with chlorine bleach, chlorine gas is formed.  If a person is exposure to Chlorine gas, even at low levels, it will irritate the mucous membranes and causes coughing and breathing problems.  In higher levels it may result in chest pain, vomiting, pneumonia and fluid in the lungs and at very high levels of exposure can cause death.
It’s not just ammonia and acids mixed with bleach that can be hazardous to your health.  Certain cleaning product that are high in alkalinity with highly acidic products are very caustic. These products can react violently, causing chemical burns. 

In conclusion, it is crucial that we stay away from mixing household chemicals and ensure we read our labels to see how we should mix them. We have to take our health seriously and it starts from the little things we take for granted on a daily basis.
Have you ever mixed cleaning detergent with chlorine bleach?

Myth or science: The culprit of food spoilage

Posted on July 15, 2018 at 7:47 PM Comments comments (46)
Many persons might have never asked the question, what cause food to spoil? But in their private thoughts this un-answered question lingers. We have been impregnated with articles on food safety, how to identify spoiled foods and the implications of consuming them, but rather seldomly, are we given the knowledge on what cause our foods to spoil.
As outlined in an article written byLohani and Garg, 2009 titled, Food Spoilage and Control. Food spoilage is an undesirable change that has occurred in the colour, flavour, odour, or texture of the food. The onset of food spoilage is rather indefinite. It is a gradual process occurring because of poor sanitation, enzymatic or chemical reactions, improper temperature control, microbial growth or physical abuse of the food.
This therefore means, that it is not just the growth of microorganisms on foods that cause them to spoil. Food can be spoil in two ways; microbial spoilage and non-microbial spoilage. Here now are the factors that are associated with each spoilage.

Microbial Spoilage
All foods contain some level of microbes on them even before they enter the food chain. These microbes could be natural flora that exist on the food or it could be from the environment e.g. soil or air. In essence, we could say that the food was contaminated with microbes even before we come in contact with it. Therefore, for microbes to multiple on the food to cause it to spoil, there has to be some intrinsic or extrinsic factor fueling such process.
Foods containing nutrients, water availability (high in moisture), oxygen, low in acidity and is not being stored at the correct temperature will facilitate the rapid growth of microbes in them. What we really consider spoilage to be could actually be a delicacy in other cultures. As what appears to be undesirable to our sense of appeal, is in fact the reaction and metabolic activities of the microbes. During the process of them growing, they are producing acids, gases, slimes, toxins, waste and other by-products. These are what we are seeing on the food, not the microbes themselves. It is therefore, for this reason why they appear to be undesirable.
It should not be mistaken to think that spoiled foods are all safe to consume, however; its imperative to note that not all spoiled foods are unsafe. E.g. Wine, Yogurt, cheese, pickles, sauerkraut etc. These foods are derivatives of foods that have undergone some level of undesirable changes in there flavour, colour, texture and odour. In other words, the milk has to undergo a state of spoilage in order for it to be in a form to make cheese.
With that said, its crucial that we understand that the process is done under a controlled environment and readers should never think to consume spoil foods. As there could be serious health implications associated with such practice, if foods are not first pass fit for human consumption.
Non-microbial Spoilage  
As was mentioned before, food spoilage is not only the result of microbial effects, but also factors such as chemical reaction in the food itself or with its packaging material. Enzymes are naturally occurring chemicals found in all living things. There function is to speed up or slows down the chemicals in the foods that cause them to go through the different stages of maturity. E.g. the banana which was unfit, then become ripened after which it becomes over ripened and there is a change in its texture, colour, odour and flavor.
Another form of chemical reaction that also occurs in food is called rancidity. This is actually the oxidation, hydrolytic or ketonic break down of fatty acids in foods to a smaller form, releasing certain odiferous products.
The packaging material e.g. cans used in packaging foods can also react with the food.  Additionally, if foreign objects such as; bolts, nails, nuts etc. contaminate the food, it  may result in a chemical reaction which cause an undesirable change in the food.
In conclusion, food spoilage is not necessary an undesirable thing, as some foods have to undergo certain changes in order to facilitate the creation of other foods. 

Have you ever eaten spoiled food?

Canned foods: Inspecting for safety.

Posted on July 8, 2018 at 6:44 PM Comments comments (53)
While many Jamaicans consider it to be a cheaper alternative to fresh food, canned foods have been a staple in many families’ diet around the world since the nineteenth century.  Once canning was perfected on an industrialized scale in 1813, there has been a steady increase in the variety of foods being canned. Canned foods are considered to be commercially sterile, as all microorganism are destroyed when the sealed can is heated to very high temperature. This is the reason canned foods have such long self-live.
It can be difficult to the untrained eyes to know when canned foods are unsafe and unfit for consumption. As a result, it occurred to me to discuss some basic methods Jamaicans can use to assess the safety and wholesomeness of their canned foods before they purchase them.

  •  Observation of outer appearance
Anormal can should possess a clean appearance, free from rust, dust, stains, holes, bulge and have slightly concave ends. Seams should be intact and free from leaks with label clearly showing the content of can, brand and the weight of the product. (e.g. Grace Corned Beef, 400g.)

  • Palpation
This is the process of applying pressure to one end of the can, if it flips back and return to its original position when release, then early stage of decomposition as started. This is known as a Flipper.
A springer is when pressure is applied to one end of the can, resulting in a distention to the other end that will not return to its original position when released. This is because the microorganism would have produced more gas in it, when compared to the Flipper.
A bulging can does not always means its content is decomposing. It could be that the can was inadequately vacuumed during the canning process, the can was overfilled during canning or there is a chemical reaction between the food and the can. This process is called hydrogen swelling.

  • Percussion
This is the process of tapping on the can to assess the quality of the food. If the can is sound, when tapped it will give off a dull note. On the contrary, if gas is in the can it will give off a higher pitch.

  •  Shaking
This method is only applicable with canned foods that are not prepared with any liquor (sauce) in it, e.g. canned corned beef. This process is done by shaking the product back and forth and listening for a watery sound. Hearing any movement or watery sound in a can signifies that decomposition has started and the food is not safe.
Canned foods can also deteriorate without showing any form of gas production in the tin. This is called flat sour and occurs when thermophiles (heat loving microbes) produce acid in the can but not gas. This is impossible to detect expect by opening the can.  Its very critical to note that this product should not be consumed as it is unfit for human consumption.

Despite canned foods are considered one of the safest food to consume, they can cause severe health implications or even death if consumed when they are not safe. 
Are you inspecting your canned foods for safety?

Top five things you must consider when grocery shopping at the food store.

Posted on July 1, 2018 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (44)
As many Jamaicans venture week by week in the marketplace to purchase their grocery, very few are familiar with the profiteering business of the food industry. Most food places are seemingly focused on sales and profits, rather than ensuring that safe and wholesome foods are sold to the public. In this week’s health tip, we will be disclosing five food secrets you need to consider when grocery shopping.

Best before date
According to CBC News in 2015, best before date tells a consumer how long that food will keep its flavor and nutritional value. It doesn’t have anything to do with the safety of the food. On the other hand, raw meats, deli meats and soft cheeses should never be consumed pass their best before dates. This is because these high-risk foods have the potential to grow pathogens that can get us sick. 
Did you know, that there have been reports of operators tampering with best before dates? As noted by several food investigators online, staff from various food places have reported to have change the dates on whole cakes that have passed their best before date. These items are then re-packaged in smaller serving size with a new best before date. In addition, fruit tart is another food that have been reported to be re-surfaced with fresh topping and fruits then given a new best before date after they have gotten old and moldy.  This practice can be very dangerous, as it can result in aspergillus, a very dangerous mold remaining on the tarts and producing micro toxin which can be very fatal over time
Dented or swollen can products
Can products are normallydesigned with a protective sheeting inside it, the function of this protective layer is to create a barrier, so as to prevent the content of the can from coming in contact with the metal. Whenever a can gets a sharp dent, it may compromise its quality hence exposing the metal to the food. This could cause the can to rust hence creating pin holes in it and facilitating the entry of pathogenic microbes in the can. 
On the contrary, a swollen can could signify that the content of the can has been contaminated with Clostridium Botulinum. This microbe is a spore-forming anaerobic bacterium, which is found normally in the soil and on produce. This therefore means that during the harvesting and preparing of the food to be canned, Clostridium would have contaminated the food. Can foods that appear swollen should never be consume, as it may result in paralysis or even death.

Grounded and seasoned meats
It has been reported that there have been unscrupulous operators, who have disguised the staleness and oldness of meat by grounding fresh meats and stale meats together. Staled meats have also been reported to have been dipped in blood to increase its red appearance then re-labeled with a new best before date. The CBC news in 2015 has also stated that persons have seasoned old meat and sold it to the public to disguise its staleness. In most cases grounded and seasoned meats are sold at an increase price when compare to whole and fresher meats.
Two for one promotions or items on sale
Its very important to check dates on food items that are on two-for-one promotion or sale. This is because it could be that the best before date will soon expiry and operators are trying to get them out the food premises before they become stale and spoil.

Choose your items from the back of the shelf
Most food store practice a first in first out stock rotation method when stocking their shelves. This therefore means that the fresher foods are normally located at the back. Additionally, if shelves are stock from bottom to top with the same food items, the fresher foods are located on the bottom shelve. This is process is done to make the less fresher food more accessible to customer so as to get them out the food store and prevent spoilage.  
In conclusion, its very crucial that as consumers we make informed choices when we are purchasing foods. Inspect your foods carefully and check your label and dates. Remember your health is your responsibility.
Are you purchasing safe food in the marketplace?

Mosquitoes: Why are they attracted to us?

Posted on June 24, 2018 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (47)

Ever wonder why mosquitoes are attracted to some people when compare to others? Many Jamaicans believed that if your blood is sweet, then mosquitoes will be more inclined to bite you more than others. With us having over 3,000 species of mosquitoes, only three are predominantly responsible for the transmission of diseases. These are the Anopheles, Culex and Aedes and some of the diseases that are transmitted by them are Malaria, Encephalitis and Dengue respectively.

Mosquitoes being so persistent and irritating at times, possesses an uncanny ability to sense our murderous intention and take flight before one of our fatal swats. However, before taking a blood meal, a mosquito would normally probe the surface of the skin, using sensory organs to find the perfect area to strike a blood vessel. It then injects its proboscis in your skin, releasing saliva in your blood vessel to prevent clotting and facilities the free flow blood. This is when its possible for this vector to transmit disease causing microbes in your body.
With that in mind here are a few reasons mosquitoes are more attracted to some people more than others;

High body temperature
Persons with high body temperature will be more likely to be bitten by one of these vectors e.g. pregnant women. Normal areas of our body with high temperature are our foreheads, neck, wrists and elbows. However, a person who has just finish some vigorous activity and is hot will have blood closer to the surface of their skin. As a result, the mosquito will use the heat to determined where blood is closer to the skin.

Carbon Dioxide
Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, therefore a person who breathes heavily, will cause the mosquito to hone in on them as it follows the steady flow of the gas. This is why you will hear them buzzing right at your ear line. So, as you exhale carbon dioxide through your nose, it travels at the side of the face along the ear line, where the vector follows the trail.

As we indulge in various activities or due to an increase in our body temperature, the body will start to producing sweat to facilities cooling down. When ever we sweat there is an increase in the secretion of lactic acid through our skin. Mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid and this will make you their prime victim.

Blood Type
According to several prominent Entomologists, mosquitoes are believed to be more attracted to a person with a Type O when compare to a Type A or Type B. it has also been deduced that persons with certain genetic are greater attractant to mosquitoes than others.
In order to protect yourself from mosquito bites, always wear mosquito repellant containing DEET and light coloured clothing to keep cool.

Are you protecting yourself from mosquito bites?