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Cedric Stephens Insurance protection for the food industry

What is the back story behind Avia Collinder’s article ‘Deeper Monitoring Coming for Food Establishments’ in the Business section of last Wednesday’s Gleaner? What are the links between her essay and this column?

The Cambridge dictionary explains a back story this way: some “thing that has happened to someone before you first see or read about that person (or thing) in a movie or story”. A January 5, 2021, New York Post article – NYP is the sixth of the top 10 New York daily newspapers by circulation – under its Travel Exclusive offered clues: ‘Dozens of Guests at Jamaica Resort Sickened by Likely Salmonella Outbreak’.

A salmonella infection or outbreak is caused by a group of bacteria that “are passed from the faeces of people or animals to other people or animals. Contaminated foods are often animal in origin. They include beef, poultry, seafood, milk, or eggs. However, all foods, including unwashed fruits and vegetables, can become contaminated”.

The Mayo Clinic says some people with a salmonella infection have no symptoms. Others develop diarrhoea, fever, and stomach or abdominal cramps within eight to 72 hours after exposure. Most healthy people recover without specific treatment within a few days to a week.

In some cases, diarrhoea can cause severe dehydration and requires prompt medical attention. Life-threatening complications also may develop if the infection spreads beyond the intestines.

Salmonella is among the top five germs causing illness, hospitalisations, and deaths from foods eaten in the United States. It is not known whether these five bacteria have a similar impact locally.

The New York Post article was one of many that I found about food-poisoning incidents in the local hotel industry. Preventing them and other types of personal injuries is one of the jobs the industry and regulators must do. Most of our visitors are North Americans known for their tendency to sue. Food-borne illnesses are not confined to the tourist industry. There is increasing evidence that Jamaicans are being affected by what is often called the ‘American compensation culture’.

The recent statement of the Ministry of Health and Wellness should be viewed in this context. Its increased surveillance activities will include wholesale establishments; canteens and cookshops; meat and poultry shops; food processing and manufacturing plants; canning, bottling, and ice-making facilities; meat and poultry processing plants; dairy and milk processing plants; and fish processing plants; traders of ice cream and frozen novelties; pastry shops, snack stores, bakeries, itinerant vendors, food vending in public and private facilities; cold storage and food warehouses; food vending and coin-operated machines; the cottage industry; franchises; and abattoirs.

The output of the ‘food, beverage and tobacco’ and ‘hotels and restaurants’ sectors was estimated at $239 billion last year, according to The Gleaner. It is unclear, however, whether there is any information about the number of food-borne illnesses that occur each year. The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalised, and 3,000 persons die from food-borne illnesses in the United States each year.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said last year that “the tourism food-supply chain is a critical factor in the sector’s survival, growth and sustainability. He noted that with rising concerns about food safety and the risk of food-borne illnesses, enforcing control measures at all supply-chain stages is necessary to ensure the final delivery of food to guests and hospitality workers in Jamaica is safe.”

The Ministry of Health’s recent initiatives appear to be another leg of a broader strategy: to ensure that the food-supply chain for residents is also safe.

The Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture explains the links between the Gleaner writer’s piece and this column in Product Liability and Microbial Food-Borne Illness. Except for the technocrats in the ministries of tourism and heath, risk-management professionals, and officials working with high-profile hotel brands, most of the operators in the food, beverage, hotels, restaurants, and insurance sectors are unlikely to see the big picture. At the same time, local cuisine is increasingly being marketed as part of the island’s culture. Opportunities and risks are associated with this strategy.

Businesses and individuals found responsible under ‘product liability laws’ for selling contaminated products that make people ill may have to pay compensation to injured persons. They may also have to pay court costs and legal fees. Coverage for food and drink and product liability insurance are often adequate tools to protect businesses and other operators in the food industry to protect themselves when untoward events occur.

Getting appropriate levels of protection, especially for persons unfamiliar with the legal system and inexperienced with the technical aspects of insurance, should seek the guidance of an accredited professional.

Reliable insurance sources have told me that members of all the groups the Ministry of Health targeting for increased surveillance can obtain customised protection at affordable prices.

– Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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