One outraged woman exclaimed: “Where in the world are you asked for your stool to get a food handlers licence? Is there a disease outbreak here, or are they broke?”
“They want me to pay $120 to supply my own poop for them to test – they need to test their own first.”
Health Minister Rose Toki-Brown is now intervening, after widespread derision at the new policy revealed in Cook Islands News yesterday. While emphasising the importance of food safety, she ordered a review of the new policy requiring faeces samples, and of the $120 fee.
“Food safety is very important to the health and wellbeing of our people and I am sure that there is a good reason for this policy change implemented by the Ministry,” she insisted.
“Operational policy decisions are made at the Ministry level, but since this issue is being raised, it is important to review the new process and fee in light of the impact to vendors and food handlers, and potential consequences or associated health risks.”
Toki-Brown also said restaurants and food outlets should have been given sufficient time and warning before Public Health began enforcing its new rule last month.
Lorna Nicholas of Kool Kebabs said the cost was disgraceful, “and if over a thousand people are tested, how long will the wait be for the results; who will police these regulations?”
She also noted the effect the tests would have on school and community fundraiser events.
“Imagine testing 200 students for one fundraiser and the people at the auditorium stalls. This is not good for anyone, there were no warnings. This is making it harder for people to earn a living.”
Teina Vakapora of Tupapa said the new requirement was just plain nonsense.
“The Health Ministry needs to focus on improving their own services to the public, at the hospital, the lack of medication, lack of oxygen for patients, getting another ambulance and raising the wages of their staff, before they start worrying about testing people’s poop,” said Vakapora.
“And the cost of the tests, are they serious; who can afford that and what for?
“What about our mamas and papas and families at the market working hard, are they trying to drive our people to leave here and move overseas? We are already struggling, but we love living here, this is our home, is government trying to get us to leave; what is really going on?”
Secretary of Health Dr Aumea Herman has confirmed a grace period of a year will be given, for people to comply with the collection of samples.
The stool culture is a test that detects and identifies bacteria that cause infections of the lower digestive tract. The test distinguishes between the types of bacteria that cause disease (pathogenic) and the types that are normally found in the digestive tract (normal flora).
For a stool analysis, a stool sample is collected in a clean container then analysed in a laboratory.
A stool culture is done to find out if bacteria may be causing an infection.
This is the first time Public Health have requested food handlers in the Cook Islands to provide a blood/stool sample to be tested, as part of the licence application form.