CONCH being prepared yesterday - but officials have issued a warning after several cases of suspected poisoning. Photo: Racardo Thomas
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
FOOD safety officials are cautioning against the consumption of fresh conch after several suspected cases of conch poisoning.
Several reports of conch poisoning made the rounds on social media over the past few days before the Bahamas Agricultural Health and Food Safety Authority issued a statement yesterday.
The authority warned consumers to avoid fresh conch until officials are able to determine the source of the contamination.
Conch poisoning is typically caused by the bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, with contamination attributed to poor hygienic practices during its handling and preparation.
Health Minister Renward Wells said there had been about 10 reported cases of conch poisoning. He said the ministry was concerned that this has risen in recent days. He was unable yesterday to say where the cases originated.
Meanwhile, Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance President Adrian Laroda said he would not caution against eating conch because it could have implications on the industry. Instead, he urged handlers to wash the mollusk properly during preparation.
“The Bahamas Agricultural Health and Food Safety Authority Food Safety and Quality Unit has been made aware of suspected conch poisoning cases,” a BAHFSA statement noted. “BAHFSA would like to caution consumers to avoid eating fresh conch at this time or conch that they suspect was not properly handled and/or prepared until the source of the contamination can be determined.
“Signs of infection may be in the form of watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and bloody diarrhea and usually occur within 24 hours after ingesting the suspect food but may range between four to 96 hours.
“This may last from one to seven days and although in most instances treatment may not be necessary, infected persons who are experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical attention at their local clinic or nearest medical facility.”
Officials said reporting an illness is critical in conducting a trace-back investigation to determine the point of contamination and the pathogen at fault.
“We ask that consumers assist us by reporting these events. This allows the development of an effective and collaborative response to this and similar outbreaks. It is important to note that severe illness is rare and occurs most often in persons with weakened immune systems.”
Conch vendors should follow industry best practices to avoid food borne illnesses due to conch contamination.
The guidelines include storing the conch in an area of sea water where the current is flowing and not stagnant. The latter can promote the proliferation of pathogenic organisms.
Vendors should also avoid having the conch sit in the sun for long periods of time and after the conch meat is removed, it should be gutted and rinsed thoroughly under potable running water for enough time to carefully remove all the slime and debris present. Also, vendors should wash their hands before and after preparation with liquid hand soap and warm running water for 20-30 seconds.
Gloves should also be worn when preparing conch salad or other fresh preparations where further cooking is not done.
Hair nets and disposable aprons should also be worn to prevent cross contamination. Gloves should be changed regularly if they become torn or in between tasks.
Other precautions include conch salad vendors utilising separate cutting boards for slicing vegetables and the conch. Cutting boards and utensils should be cleaned and sanitised in between preparations to avoid cross contamination or the carryover of contamination between preparations.
Consumers are urged to be vigilant to ensure that wherever they are purchasing raw conch dishes, vendors are following hygienic practices. Those who purchase raw conch to prepare at home should follow these preparation steps as well.