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Jaewynn McKay: Health officials jeopardise food stalls

Wednesday January 22, 2020 Written by Published in Editorials

OPINION: Our markets and street food are spectacular; woe betide any ‘poo police’ who threaten to shut them down for no good reason.


I don’t know whose idea it was to require food handlers in the Cook Islands to provide a sample of their poo for public examination. In fact it’s mind-boggling – no pun intended – to even imagine how it came up.

What is the context that has led to this momentous decision, and what possible useful purpose might be achieved by the authorities rumaging through the remnants of the meal or meals we consumed a day or so earlier.

This doesn’t happen in New Zealand, and we know the New Zealand authorities tend to be a lot pickier on a whole range of things than their Cook Islands counterparts; so what’s going on? And how far back up the chain does this go?

Are you telling us that everyone who handles, prepares, and serves food to members of the public, needs to provide a stool to the health authorities.

From January to November last year, 363 food licenses were issued by Te Marae Ora. Multiply that by the number of people engaged at each venue and that’s a fair bit of crap to collect. About 100 at one resort alone, The Edgewater

Do the growers who pick and sell fruit and vegetables at the market or on the side of the road have to comply? Do all the people who are trying to make a living by preparing and selling food at the Punanganui and Muri and Tupapa night markets have to comply? Along with every single person who is in some way or other involved in preparing and serving food in resorts, restaurants, cafes, takeaway bars, shops, at weddings, birthdays, funerals, unveillings ... you get the picture.

That’s a lot of poo, and a tidy little extra tax take too, with the $120 a time you need to hand over for the pleasure of doing it.

And once again I ask, what is the purpose of it, what is hiding in the poo that continues to be a danger to the public even if the pooer has thoroughly washed his or her hands since they last went?

Furthermore is it a one-off event, or must these handlers poo for the government on a regular basis? Will there be “poo police” appointed to track down recalcitrants who fail to comply; who will ensure that the poo handed in is yours and not part of a job lot provided by a member of the family, the family dog or maybe one of your work mates?

Are poo police likely to stand over people to ensure it’s done properly? In fact, because of the very high numbers of people who might get caught up in this process, might it not be more effecient for the government to set up a Ministry for Poo – I suspect it would be too much to expect that the Head of Ministry would be called “Winnie”.

And again in the interests of efficiency – not to mention job creation, “poo centres’ could be set up in each village, maybe more than one in the bigger villages, with dedicated staff to ensure the steady and proper processing of stools.

For many decades Cook Islands people have been preparing food for consumption in a variety of establishments and venues. The formal venues like resorts and restaurants/cafes – even our humble Coastal Kitchen – have to undergo at least annual inspections and meet certain requirements set by the Health Department.

I’m certain it’s not quite so easy to keep an eye on the less formal vendors, but trying to force everyone remotely involved in delivering food to take a sample of their poo up to the hospital seems like a monumental farce.

My friends and I would still very mch like to know where this has all come from. We don’t believe it’s an idea that’s come out of the public service; rather maybe it’s come from the more formal food sector feeling miffed and the pinch too, by the huge numbers of people who have voted with their feet and chosen to spend their hard earned holiday dollars at stalls like those at the Muri night market where they can mingle with locals and enjoy fairly basic but wholesome food at prices they can afford.

The growth of the Muri night market in particular has been quite spectacular, and it mirrors markets like that around the world in places like Singapore or closer to home Otara, Pakuranga and Avondale to name just a few.

Tourists to Rarotonga know about the markets and the less formal eating places like the Mooring Fish Cafe, before they even come here. They’ve heard about the great Punanganui market on Saturday mornings from friends and it’s one of the major attractions to attend during their stay. They’ve also heard about the Mooring and Muri market from friends too, or from Trip Advisor.

Those same visitors, some of whom come back year after year, and the new people who will follow them, are not going to look kindly at authorities who for reasons we know not have interfered with and possibly eliminated the markets and the street food and products they provide.

I’m looking forward to attending the meeting Te Marae Ora is organising next month with the food sector.

In email exchanges I’ve had with the Ministry, they have reinforced that this is not new testing and that there is a broader focus on food safety as per the Food Act and regulations.

I get that, but I don’t get why the focus is on poo-collecting rather than ensuring food handling practices are being embraced by the plethora of people involved.

1 comment

  • Comment Link RO STEPHEN WHITE Thursday, 23 January 2020 03:59 posted by RO STEPHEN WHITE

    the Poo can harbour parasties. . Common practice in Canada for newly arrived immigrants from Asia.

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