DUBAI // Of the 2.8 million tonnes of food imported to Dubai last year, 500,000 tonnes were rejected for not meeting food-safety requirements.
By the end of this year, according to Dubai Municipality, food import is expected to reach four million tonnes - most of which will be subject to new food industry regulations.
Person in Charge (PIC) - a project three years in the making - requires that by December 2011, every food establishment would have appointed at least one certified PIC. This individual will act as liaison between the premises, municipality and Dubai Government. "The PIC can be the owner of the business, or a designated person such as a shift leader, chef, kitchen manager or similar individual, always present and involved in the worksite and having direct authority, control or supervision over employees who engage in storage, preparation, display or service of food," said Khalid Mohamed Sharif, the director of the Food Control Department at Dubai Municipality.
Things have changed, he said: "No more excuses for violating rules and harming consumers, or causing a dent in the economy." Candidates must register at the Food Control Department, undergo a three-day training course and an exam from next December. Bashir Hassan Yousif, a food safety expert at the municipality, said the PIC would be accredited by the municipality, and licences would be renewed after five years. Training fees start at Dh200.
"Since 2005, we carried out 65,000 food handler inspections and we are not happy," Mr Yousif said. "The food wasted last year creates an environmental and economic burden." Marwan Ibrahim, the area hygiene manager for Armani Hotel in Burj Khalifa and also in charge of The Address and Palace hotels, said such training programmes and follow-ups are a crucial part of the job and should not be seen as extra work.
Bobby Krishna, senior food studies and surveys officer at Dubai Municipality, created a handbook for the programme and said they are in talks with North Carolina State University for a graduate student to evaluate the programme. "If we find this useful, it could be used around the world," he said. "No one has done this where inspections, training and industry are integrated." Last year, two siblings, Chelsea and Nathan D'Souza, ages 7 and 5 respectively, died of suspected food poisoning after eating takeaways from an Al Qusais restaurant in Dubai.
Prosecutors accused the chef, supervisor and restaurant of storing food unhygienically, causing the cultivation of bacteria. "How can you calculate the loss of a baby or a person who is sick?" Mr Krishna said. "These training programmes will answer to many questions." Meanwhile, in Abu Dhabi, all restaurant and kitchen staff will have to be trained and certified in food safety by the end of 2012, according to a programme introduced by the emirate's food regulator.
The training will be a condition for restaurant licences, which will not be issued or renewed unless all staff have taken at least six hours of hygiene training and passed a multiple-choice exam, according to the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. Restaurant licences must be renewed every year. Those who do not pass on their first attempt will be allowed to re-sit. Staff who fail a second time will be sent on a more rigorous food- safety course.
Once they pass, workers will be issued with a certificate valid for three years. In Abu Dhabi, 18 food outlets were closed down and more than 8,000 tonnes of food destroyed during inspections in the lead-up to Ramadan.