DUBAI // The emirate will step up its food safety campaign by providing "training sessions" for consumers at leading supermarkets, Dubai Municipality announced yesterday. Starting this Ramadan, municipality counters would set up at malls where information on essential food safety methods would be explained by officers. Training sessions would also be organised, especially for housewives, who could register at these counters.
The announcement was made at a meeting involving representatives of leading supermarket chains and officials of the municipality's Food Control Department. Supermarkets participating in the meeting included LuLu, Spinneys, Carrefour, Union Cooperative, Emirates Cooperative and HyperPanda. The hours-long meeting was seen as a major effort by the municipality to stop food poisoning, which has been blamed for several deaths in recent months. Spoilt food was cited in the deaths of Nathan and Chelsea D'Souza, aged five and eight, in Dubai in June. The death at the end of May of Marwa Faisal, four, from Sharjah, was attributed to food poisoning, as was the death of two-year-old Rishad Pranav in Dubai last month.
Dubai Municipality said it had recorded 60 cases of food poisoning this year, 40 of which involved the victims eating at home. Khalid Sharif al Awadhi, head of the Food Control Department, said the awareness campaigns were meant to increase the department's direct contact with consumers to better communicate messages on safe food handling. The food safety counters are expected to start operating at the LuLu Hypermarket in Al Qusais and later move to other areas, depending on the programme's initial success.
"We are looking at setting up training sessions for housewives at these counters where advice would be offered on how to assess quality of food and how to be careful with handling of food," said Bobby Krishna, a senior food studies officer at the municipality. "We are keen on conducting such classes with consumers and are looking for more interactive programmes to reach the consumer directly. Shoppers can come and register with us and we will conduct classes for them," said Mr Krishna.
Apart from the awareness drive, the meeting discussed safe treatment of food. Supermarket operators were reminded of the need for careful food handling, especially in relation to ready-to-eat products. Such products are in the high-risk category for causing food poisoning. Common high-risk products include cold items such as meat, salads, pasteurised milk, cheese and fish. Hot foods sold at several supermarkets are also identified as high-risk.
Supermarket operators were reminded to pay attention to temperature control for hot and cold items. "All products should be labelled properly and should include consumer notes on how to handle the food," Mr Sharif said after the meeting. "The supermarkets were also urged to conduct supplier audits to make sure that the food supplied is made and stored in good conditions." The meeting with supermarkets followed the municipality's announcement last week that it was setting up a nine-member team to address food safety. The new team was to focus on educating food safety offenders rather than shutting them down. Inspectors would work with the food outlets to solve their defects and held them reopen in a safer environment.
Sixty-five food outlets had been shut down so far this year because of safety violations, the municipality said. Suraj Parakat, hygiene manager of LuLu Hypermarket, said the meeting was the first time that leading supermarkets had met to discuss food safety. "Such meetings help us a lot, because we also get to know about the expectations of the municipality and exchange ideas with other supermarkets," he said. "The fact that the municipality logo will be added to these awareness campaigns would add a lot of authenticity to the programmes."