Serious Public Health Questions About Barbados BICO Milk and Ice Cream

Barbados News Media Fails To Print Credible Letter About Serious Public Health Issue

The editor
The Barbados Advocate
Bridgetown, Barbados
Dear Sir/madam,

On Friday the 27th.June 2008, an item of news was aired at 5.30 pm on the radio, which dealt with the recent recall of milk and ice-cream products manufactured by BICO. The chief executive officer of BICO Mr. Edwin Thirlwell, down played the incident and commented on the fact that, testing of the products was done at one of the polyclinics, whereas, in fact, testing ought to have been done at the government laboratories. The inference given was that, the polyclinics were not validated by the located authorities to do such tests. I want to correct the misconceptions which Thirlwell have been disseminating to the listening public.

First of all, let me disclose an interest, since the environmental officer with responsibility for the area, was trained by me in HACCP at the Barbados Community College and as recent as November 2007, under went an intense training course sponsored by the Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization, over a two-week period. I was the course instructor for the training program, which dealt with HACCP and Food Safety Auditing. Included in the program was a section dealing with food recalls. Examples of recalls from the USA were obtained from the Institute of Food Technologists daily news bulletin board for the period July-November 2008 and where appropriate, as far as 2007.

Contrary to what Thirlwell would like the consuming public to believe, a product recall is a serious indictment about the food safety standards of a food processing organization. This is especially so, if as in the case of BICO, the food establishment is HACCP certified. According to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA): food Recalls: Distributor’s Guide. September 14th. 2007 page 2: “Sometimes, for many different reasons, a product may be manufactured and sold which may make some people ill or injure them, or is in violation of food safety legislation. When an unsafe or violative food has left the control of manufacturer…you must recall the product. If you choose not to conduct a recall, the regulatory agencies must order a recall.”

In the case with which we are dealing, testing was done on five appropriately labeled samples of each of the suspected contaminated products at about three different local facilities. Batch numbers, name of product and manufacturer as well as dated manufactured were noted. Positives results were obtained. The products were found to be contaminated with E.coli, Klebsiella spp.and other enteric organisms. In some cases, colonies were to numerous to count (TNC). BICO then voluntary recalled the defective products.

The organisms found are associated with fecal contamination and are indicative of the fact that, standard sanitary operating procedures (SSOPs) either have broken down or are non-existent.

Two samples of products were then sent by BICO to the Diagnostic Laboratory for further testing. These samples were not coded for batch number, date of manufacture and time of manufacture. These samples passed inspection.

The questions the consuming public must ask itself are: when were these samples taken? Were they taken subsequent to the instructions issued by the environmental officer that, equipment used for milk production, should be stripped, cleaned and sanitized before being used for ice cream manufacture? Were the samples taken from the same batches that were sampled by the environmental officers, or were the samples obtained from newly manufactured products? Also, the consuming public must also ask, was the sampling done statistically, according to methods outline by the American Public Association’s Compendium for the microbiological testing of foods?

It would appear that good manufacturing practices (GMP’s) were not in effect. The condemn products are to be dumped.

Sincerely

Robert D. Lucas, PH.D.
Food Biotechnologist
Bridgetown, Barbados
July 1, 2008

Barbados Free Press Comments…

To our knowledge, none of the unethical lapdog Barbados news media printed this very credible letter that calls into question the capabilities and willingness of BICO to maintain healthy standards for the public.

Should BICO wish to communicate their side of the story with our readers, we would be pleased to prominently publish their letter unedited as it is received.

Barbados Free Press

38 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Ethics, Health, News Media

38 responses to “Serious Public Health Questions About Barbados BICO Milk and Ice Cream

  1. Hants

    Life is about choices.
    If anyone chooses to ignore the facts that is up to them but I hope my friends and family are wise enough to stop using BICO products until a clear and comprehensive explanation has been given with PROOF that their products are absolutely “clean”.

    Children are in greater danger than adults so be careful.
    E.coli, Klebsiella spp.and other enteric organisms. In some cases, colonies were to numerous to count.

    I believe we should continue to buy BICO products after we are absolutely sure that they are clean.

  2. Mathilde

    I dont think its just Bico. I bought 3 large cartons of Full cream Milk from Pine Hill Dairy. the first one tasted like butter. the second one is slimey, it isnt watery, doesnt pour out, you can stick a spoon in it and pull it out and there will be a long trail dangling. the third was off. They all have an expiry date of July 11th

  3. reality check

    Food safety shouldn’t be treated lightly whether it be pets or people. Full transparency is about independent checks and balances in the system to protect the public.

    While the local media may be afraid of advertising dollars going out the window the well being of all Barbadians needs to be at the forefront of our information services as ignorance, apathy or conflict is no longer acceptable.

  4. Tony Hall

    I don’t agree with everything that is done on the blogs but this story is an excellent example of why the blogs are important. The news media might not want to print this story for fear of losing advertising dollars.

  5. Ah, it all starts to come together. This explains the slightly odd story in last weeks Barbados Business Authority (who spend most of their lives as far as we can tell reprinting press releases verbatim) where BICO announced the introduction of tamper seals as an additional quality control measure on some of their packs “at no extra cost to the consumer”. How very generous of them.

  6. crossroads

    I love my BICO, eats a bowl full nearly every night. They had a problem and I trust they have retified everything. Now, when is the last time a health check was done on KENTUCKY OR CHEFETTE. Ever been there early in the day and gotten a chicken sandwich or hamburger, with all the bread mush up, lettuce looks two days old, tomato swibbly makes you feel sick just to look at it. How about that funny smelling coleslaw with the Mayo Where are the inspectors then?? Where are the standards??

  7. Just Waiting

    I assume that large restaurants are checked occasionally, but when are the numerous vendors selling food at the side of the road checked? Is it enough to just obtain a health certificate every year.
    How many manufactured products for human consumption, sold in Barbados carry a “real” tamper proof seal?

  8. Hants

    Good job BFP. Sometimes we need a jolt of reality to protect ourselves.

    There is an ongoing problem with food safety worldwide and while there is no need to panic,pressure should be put on the likes of BICO to sell us safe products.

  9. cherry2enpowered

    I once brought bico icecream on 0n three different occassions at a well know supermarket. All tasted old especially the last one. The last batch give me a cutting effect and i had to end up throwing away 3/4 of the ice cream. Of course it turn me off so i stop buying bico for a while. But then i figured icecream sales at the particular supermarket was not turning over quickly enought so i began buying bico from somewhere else and did not encounter any problems. But bico icecream is not what it use to be before.

  10. Sundowner

    Rum shops/hotels/restaurants/vendors, ANYBODY selling food for consumption should be ‘spot’ checked twice a year, as is normal in most other countries, also checked for health certificates. A friend used to ‘help’ out at a rum shop in Bathsheba, gave up when mahogany birds were under/in the fridges, under plates in the kitchen ,toilets flooded for days on end, ice water left in coolers so long mould formed on the top and made her husband run outside and vomit ………… this ‘shop’ is still in business despite being reported time and time again, contracts with a tourist company brings people there for a traditional buffet, which is bought in in a vehicle which I was told was full of ‘mahogany birds’………….

  11. Amused

    “letter that calls into question the capabilities and willingness of BICO to maintain healthy standards for the public.”
    ————————————

    it does?

    where?

    Lucas loves his name in print, he must be so happy to have found BFP

  12. Amused

    Has Dr Lucas put the questions about the samples sent by Bico to Bico themselves? has Bico refused to answer them? are they even relevant?

    Should the testing be done at the Govt lab or the polyclinic? “Dr Lucas” has not even addressed that question.

    Or does “Dr Lucas” love his name in print so much that he just writes another of his lengthy letters to the press instead of approaching Bico.

    Why does he not just write a shorter one with the same questions, it might actually get published?

    The ministry takes samples from the public and that is how they found the problem in the first place.

    The ministry will keep taking samples that is what they do.

    Samples sent by Bico are irrelevant. The ministry will not be satisfied until samples pulled from the market place are “clean”.

    Which do you think is more relevant ? samples sent by Bico or samples the Ministry randomly pulls from the market place?

    Finally did Bico fight the ministry’s claims which they are entitled to do or did they pull the products?

    ******************

    BFP says,

    Those are all GREAT QUESTIONS Amused. We would expect that BICO will respond to all of them. Hell… we have more online viewers than the Nation News… so BICO would be fools not to respond to your questions.

    We’ll publish whatever they send us UNEDITED.

    BICO can send us any article at barbadosfreepress@yahoo.com

    We’ll check there now….

    Nope… nothing from BICO yet, but soon, we’re sure!

  13. Amused

    For the record, I dont even like thirwell, but a few stupid questions by an egotist should not bring a company into disrepute

  14. Georgie Porgie

    The Public Health Laboratory at the polyclinic is the government laboratory designated for public health issues.

    The reason it is attached to the SWCPC is because it was traditionally attached to the clinic at Enmore’s. It is a good laboratory.

  15. Amused

    No, I dont agree they are great questions.

    Much more relevant would be to ask the Ministry ;

    – have you tested more samples?
    – are they clear
    – do you have a follow up program
    – Have Bico satisfied you as to how the problem was caused
    – Have Bico satisfied you that their revised procedures will avoid the problem in the future

    Those stupid questions were just an opportunity for someone to write a verbose letter to the press to attempt to impress us with their knowledge and I am not surprised it was ignored.

    I would like to hear from the ministry. Any further assurances from Bico would be of course be welcomed and certainly in their interest, but the real test comes from satisfying the ministry who must be commended for spotting the issue in the first place.

    Thank you Georgie for you info. A better response to Thirwell than anything in the letter.

  16. skirt and pants

    I think we should be very thankful that BICO has standards. This is a first for this long serving company and so they are fully aware of what they must do to keep their reputations, clientelle and business intact. But people let us look at Barbados’s approach to standards. BICO has HACCP but how far does HACCP extend outside of the company? I find that companies who have implemented certain standards take a lack lustre approach to the source of their raw material. They may ask that certain procedures be put in place but often enough the people that are putting them are not trained or do not have the resources to affect that change. I wonder if we can truly say that companies in Barbados are truly HACCP compliant. Case in point, you have several fish processing operators in Barbados and some of them have implemented HACCP but their product source (fishing vessels and fish markets) are in very poor sanitary state. How can you produce a product from, in my opinion, from a compromise source and say that when it gets to your processing factory it is safe because it is under that’s company Good manufacturing procedures. Maybe I am wrong but I think something is wrong with our system of standards. Can someone please correct me.

    .

  17. reality check

    “BICO can send us any article at barbadosfreepress@yahoo.com

    We’ll check there now….

    Nope… nothing from BICO yet, but soon, we’re sure!”

    A responsible corporation would bang off a response in an hour or less but in Barbados we assume something negative in having to answer to the public for our actions.

    Politicians have been shown to avoid communications with the public at all costs. Dialogues on hard hitting issues do not yet exist.

    Bico needs to suck it up and keep its goodwill with its customers. Its no big deal to do the right thing and communicate its position in a simple and unemotional manner.

  18. .88

    A responsible corporation would respond to a letter written directly to them and not reply to any and every rumour or innuendo found on any blog (not even one who has a rather inflated view of themselves)

  19. Ya Right

    Anonymous says “A responsible corporation would respond to a letter written directly to them and not reply to any and every rumour or innuendo found on any blog”

    I believe that “don’t reply to any rumour or innuendo found on any blog” was also the policy of the last Government of Barbados?

    That worked out well for the BLP, didn’t it! 🙂

  20. Georgie Porgie

    Whereas food handling institutions like BICO have (or would havc) their own laboratories to maintain quality control, the public should be aware that we have in Barbados some very good Public Health inspectors, who do (or used to do) a very good job of monitoring food handling issues, food handling institutions from the simple rum shop and upwards. And they can be very strict too!

  21. akabozik

    Ya Right has a good point! Barbados blogs receive millions of visits every year from around the globe and they are very much an influence in Barbados politics, which was a hard-learned lesson by the BLP last election.

    Bico and other businesses ignore the power of the blogs at their peril.

  22. West Side Davie

    “Bico and other businesses ignore the power of the blogs at their peril.”

    I saw an article in the New York Times that many large corporations have blogging research departments to keep track of trends that affect the public perception of their products. Anonymous’ position of ignoring the blogs is at odds with current corporate practices.

  23. .88

    where did I say to ignore blogs?

  24. passin thru

    .88 must be a lawyer to state such fine point. He suggested that Bico not reply to this blog article and then says “where did I say to ignore blogs?”

    DUH!!!!!

  25. passin thru

    BFP said “Should BICO wish to communicate their side of the story with our readers, we would be pleased to prominently publish their letter unedited as it is received.”

    It seems to me that Bico as a “responsible corporation” (like .88 says) would want to speak directly to the same audience that read this article especially since BFP is read by tens of thousands (?) of Bajans every week. The audience on the web is also more affluent and educated than the normal newspaper audience.

    BICO management are fools to let this article stand without rebuttal or explanation.

  26. Amused

    what exactly do they need to rebut

    the letter just asks irrelevant questions.

    the best place to put questions is to the ministry

  27. passin thru

    Amused, your stand that Bico should ignore consumers who have questions and that the consumers should go to the Ministry of Health for answers about the fecal contamination of BICO milk and ice cream is the type of “put off” smart ass answer that Bajans don’t have to tolerate anymore.

    We citizens have our own news channels and thank god we do because the newspapers didn’t cover this story. But that is ok because we don’t need the newspapers anymore.

    If Bico managers want to leave all these comments and the article without comment that is their business.

    But if Bico wants to address the confidence of consumers in Bico’s products and procedures, the company could start with commenting on this…

    “The organisms found are associated with fecal contamination and are indicative of the fact that, standard sanitary operating procedures (SSOPs) either have broken down or are non-existent.”

    Then they might want to comment on this…

    “The products were found to be contaminated with E.coli, Klebsiella spp.and other enteric organisms. In some cases, colonies were to numerous to count (TNC).”

    Then they might want to say something about this…

    “Contrary to what Thirlwell would like the consuming public to believe, a product recall is a serious indictment about the food safety standards of a food processing organization.”

  28. Amused

    “the newspapers didn’t cover this story. ”

    ——————–

    that is flat out not true.

    Bico has not ignored consumers they made statements on press and radio.

    you are welcomed to write them or the ministry if you have further questions. Did “dr lucas” bother to write them? My point has always been he is more concerned with his inflated ego.

    none of the three statements you have quoted have been denied by Bico and they have already commented on the entire matter.

    Relevant questions are the ones I stated in my above earlier post and you can put them to bico or to the ministry

    Bajans dont have to tolerate any “smart ass” answer and they dont even have to buy ice cream and you did not need “your own news channel” to make that happen. You always had that right.

    By the way you only knew about this story in the first place because of the ministry and not “any news channel”

  29. Amused

    I never even suggested Bico ignore anyone, I pointed out that BEST place to put questions was the ministry

    and by putting questions to them I mean writing them directly out of courtesy and respect and not by posting questions on a blog and hoping to invoke a reaction to innuendo

  30. Amused

    oh and you are free not to buy a newspaper either

  31. Warrior

    I want to agree with crossroads input. I any one checking on Kentucky and Chefette. I find that nowadays there are no standards in terms of what the customer’s food should look or smell like but what happens to be the going mood at the time.

    Too often than not now I find that the chicken bought from both of these fast food restaurants, smell extremely raw as if it are still in the processing plant and no amount of condiments hiding the smell anymore.

    More often than not I am choosing to keep my money and prepare my food at home.

  32. nick

    Bico was once a fairly well run company until thirwell took over and it has been down hill since then. The company is now in a mess so I am not surprised at the problems that they are currently having. He is an expert at smoke and mirrors and creative accounting. Peoples heads would grow if they really knew what has been going on at that company.

  33. Leigh Bourne

    As an Inspector here in the UK its safe to say that BICO cannot be HACCP compliant and produce food that is at best unhygienic and at worse downright dangerous. It is worth noting that dairy products produced by BICO cannot be offered for sale or consumption anywhere in the EU.
    One question spring to mind on this issue. First – I’m assuming that law exist that can punish errant food manufactures – if that’s the case where is it ? No one has commented yet on any possible sanctions BICO might face.

  34. Sureal

    Leigh Bournes comment has me confused. Why can BICO not be HACCP compliant? Surely it is possible to be HACCP compliant but still have an issue which necessitates a recall…..Or perhaps Leigh you believe that Cadburys of the UK are not HACCP compliant because they were selling product contaminated with Salmonella and forced to recall the product?

  35. Leigh Bourne

    Two missing words in the sentence. ‘…..its safe to say that BICO cannot claim to be HACCP compliant and produce food that is at best unhygienic and at worse downright dangerous.’
    Here Cadburys recalled the product as a precaution – the levels of the rare form of salmonella found were significantly below the standard that would cause health problems. The question remains – has there been any follow up action by either BICO or the authorities ?

  36. Coffee & Cream

    Has any consensus been reached on the health effects of the artificial sweetener Aspartame ? Bico uses this controversial substance in their Diabetic’s Delight range of ice cream.

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