“We want to get to the point where, if there are infractions, whether it be rodents or just the general cleanliness of the restaurants, we should be able to cite that; and let the public know that, ‘Hey, these guys have been cited for these infractions,’ and give them time to rectify them.” – RICHARD SIMMS, director, Department of Environmental Health
Over the last 20 years, the Cayman Islands has seen a 300% increase in the number of registered food establishments. The total now stands at 850 restaurants, cafes, dinners and mobile food trucks, as well as bed and breakfasts – and the Department of Environmental Health’s four food inspection officers have been tasked with monitoring them all.
The bulk of the establishments are scattered across Grand Cayman, where three of the DEH officers are based. At that rate, each officer must monitor about 284 establishments. To do this, they must inspect each registered food premises, as well as investigate consumer complaints, condemn foods that do not meet relevant safety requirements, conduct food hygiene training, examine imported foods and make post-mortem examinations of locally slaughtered animals, among six other tasks.
850 – Number of registered food establishments in Cayman
Despite the massive increase in the number of registered food establishments, the number of officers tasked with overseeing them has remained the same. The heavy workload is one of several things DEH Director Richard Simms wants to have reviewed.
“We definitely need to increase the staffing in that area,” said Simms. “I only have three officers policing all the restaurants across the islands. That’s definitely not enough when you look at the quantities that are out there, and they continue to come onstream almost every week, it seems like.”
An inadequate number of officers is one of several issues that prevents the DEH from being able to properly “police the food establishments”, he said.
Another issue is the restricted powers that are prescribed to the food officers by the 2002 revision of the Public Health Law.
Director Simms says he would like to see his officers given the chance to give food-licensed premises a grade that would be displayed for the public to see.
“We want to get to the point where, if there are infractions, whether it be rodents or just the general cleanliness of the restaurants, we should be able to cite that; and let the public know that, ‘Hey, these guys have been cited for these infractions,’ and give them time to rectify them,” said Simms.
During 2018, social media was abuzz with various incidents caught on camera. One patron of a local restaurant purchased fried chicken only to find a roll of deep-fried paper towel instead. Other images and videos showed maggot-like larva in rice, flies in cooked food, and even a tiny ant colony in a batch of broccoli at a local supermarket. The cleanliness of several popular food chains is also an issue that was brought into focus.
But, Simms says, his officers’ hands are tied for now. “As it is now, we don’t have the enforcement powers to do anything,” he said.