BSJ reviewing canned ackee standards

SPURRED by overwhelming demand for Jamaican canned ackee from international markets, and due to concerns over the “threat to the health and safety of consumers” given the engagement of pre-processors who clean and deseed the fruit before it gets to factories, Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has moved to revise the current standard to buttress the safety of the delicacy for consumption.

The updated standard, which is now in draft form, is expected to come into force on January 1 next year. According to the bureau, the thrust for the accelerated revision of the standard is “because of the urgent concerns or the threat” now being seen to the health and safety of consumers due to of the changes in the industry which are being taken as a ‘a high alert’ given the importance of the product to the country locally and internationally.

The standard, referred to as JS276, 2016, was first published in 2000 and revised in 2016 and specifies the requirements for the processing of ackee and the fruit of the ackee plant. It, however, does not include the requirements for types of ackees other than canned, which includes raw frozen ackee, raw cooked ackee, as well as ackee spread. The current revision was undertaken by the National Food Standards Technical Committee in response to urgent concerns in the industry wherein pre-processors are now engaged in cleaning, deseeding, and removing the raphe (pinkish membrane between the seed and the ackee fruit) from the ackee fruit, the bureau said Wednesday.

The bureau, during a virtual sensitisation session on the 2023 draft Jamaican Standard Specification for Processed Ackees, on Wednesday highlighted the proposed changes to the existing standard and how it will be monitored and regulated for ackee processors and exporters.

According to Standards Development Officer Giselle Brown, the standard is being revised to include requirements for trimmed and cored ackees, as the current standard does not include freshly picked and cleaned ackees. Under the updated standard National Compliance and Regulatory Authority, which is the newly established authority regulatory division of the bureau, will be the entity responsible for registration of entities. She said hygiene and labelling will also be the purview of the authority. The revision will also address the alignment of heavy metal limits with CODEX Aliumentarious, the international body which deals with food standards in relation to production. A definition of the term “processed” will now be included to address the preprocessors who are doing the cleaning and cutting of the ackees. It will also address storage and transportation requirements to ensure that mature ackees in or out of the pods are transported in such a way that the integrity of the product is maintained, Brown said.

Executive director of the bureau Dr Velton Gooden, speaking during the session, stressed the importance of the industry.

“You may not be aware that ackees form a significant export item for Jamaica. In fact the Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported that in 2022 Jamaica exported approximately US$22 million worth of ackees primarily to the United States but also a significant amount going into Canada as well as the United Kingdom. Most of this ackee that is exported is in the form of canned ackees in brine. However, that US$22 million that is reported to have been exported in 2022 forms only a fraction of the true demand out there for Jamaican ackees, and this makes sense because we know that a significant number of Jamaicans — roughly three million — live in the Diaspora, and these members of the Diaspora are interested in having their favourite national dish,” he stated.