Mounting violations forced the Ministry of Health to order the food court at Sheraton Centre Mall closed this afternoon just as lunchtime traffic started to arrive for meals at the heavily patronised spot.
Health officials blamed a failure to act on ‘several’ of these violations for the drastic action which left food shop owners with cooked food which could not be sold.
The unexpected decision also left dozens of shoppers hungry and some business owners confused and according to reports it could be days before the all-clear is given for the food businesses to resume.
Both management of the Sargeant’s Village, Christ Church mall and health officials confirmed the developments but have given no indication when the food court will be re-opened.
Around midday, the area was chaotic as employees sought to explain to customers why they could not be fed as operations at the often bustling dining area halted. Food warmers were left empty, uncooked stock in some cases was strewn on the floor and at least one vendor opted to distribute food free of cost as a result of the issues.
The Environmental Health Division of the Ministry of Health and Wellness reportedly carried out the inspection and had been doing so intermittently since September 4.
According to a Government Information Service (GIS) statement, the inspectors found “several conditions” which violate the Health Services Food Hygiene Regulations.
The release indicated that owners were instructed to carry out the necessary remedial action, during which no food was supposed to be sold. However, no such action had been taken forcing officials to take a firmer stance.
“The Ministry of Health and Wellness advises the public that it is working with the management of the mall to limit any inconvenience that these closures may cause,” the statement said.
At the popular shopping complex, mall director, Scott Oran said maintenance routines and industrial work needed to be done on the premises, which management was hoping = to have done at night. He however admitted the food court’s closure would allow work to be done more expeditiously.
In a vague response, Oran identified industrial cleaning, cob webbing and changes to some of the “fixtures and fittings” in the food court as the major issues.
“We were informed by the Ministry of Health that they would like certain things done and carried out in the most expeditious way and we are hoping it could be done in a day or two,” said Oran, who stressed that all other sections of the mall remained open.
Restaurant owners remained tight-lipped about the developments before heading into a meeting with mall management. Prior to that, owners could be heard complaining about a lack of information on the abrupt developments, though they refused to speak about the financial losses associated with the closure.
Shoppers were also reluctant to speak about the situation. However a handful anonymously expressed displeasure at the inconvenience, while others chided health officials for the sudden action.
“This is prime time for lunch and there are a lot of people coming in and we had to tell them the food court was closed. When I first walked in, I thought there was an emergency and I spoke to the guy [security guard] and he said the food court was closed, but nobody could tell you exactly why,” one woman complained.
“But it has affected a lot of people who are in work clothes and who are going in and coming back out. So it’s a really unfortunate situation and I hope whatever it is, gets rectified, because this is a prime location where people get lunch in Barbados.”
Another complained: “A health issue doesn’t just wake up one morning, so if there is a health issue, it would have been something that was going on before and it should have been dealt with before.”