The scorching summer heat carries food-poisoning risks to consumers, with transported items most likely to spoil, safety chiefs have warned. They urged families to keep food in cold storage when stocking up for festivities surrounding the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the hottest time of year. Officials are planning a range of campaigns that will intensify monitoring of the food industry and raise awareness of the risks to consumers.
Mohammed al Reyaysa, spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said: "The summer will be eventful. People think the summer is a time for holidays, but [food] establishments should know that there will be deterrent penalties if anyone crosses the red line of the consumer." Food safety infractions typically peak during the summer. Last June and July, the authority found violations that led to its highest-profile closures of meat counters, at Carrefour in Marina Mall and Lulu Hypermarket in Al Wahda Mall.
In August last year, 11 labourers were treated for suspected food poisoning after they received catering from a company that was not equipped to provide food to large groups. A series of deaths of young children in Dubai last summer were all suspected to be related to food poisoning. At least three died when they fell ill after consuming food not prepared at home. Nathan and Chelsea D'Souza, five and seven, died in June after becoming ill following a takeaway meal from a Chinese restaurant in a case that is still in the courts.
Food poisoning was also suspected to be responsible for the death of two-year-old Rishab Pranav in July. The deaths resulted in a major overhaul of safety regulations and inspections of restaurants and cafes in the emirate. The ADFCA said there was an increased likelihood that transported food would spoil if it was not kept at appropriate temperatures. A desire to stock up on food for Ramadan, in both warehouses and homes, would only add to the risk, said the authority.
In the summer heat, insects and bacteria also pose greater risks. "In the summer, we are in a country with high temperatures and it's a special situation," said Mr al Reyaysa. He said there would be more surprise inspections on vehicles transporting food, as well as warehouses, supermarkets and grocery stores, to ensure they were complying with temperature regulations. One of the many campaigns announced this week aimed to teach consumers to follow storage instructions on food labels, he said.
Another will use the media to target summer travellers, particularly those who use outer roads to get to nearby countries, warning them not to eat at restaurants that seem lacking in hygiene. The authority was planning to monitor such establishments more closely in the coming months, he said. Mr al Reyaysa called on companies operating labour camps to check with the Government to see if their caterers had been deemed capable of providing food to large numbers of workers.
A series of five-minute cartoon episodes in Arabic, English and Urdu will be broadcast on television to teach children the basics of food hygiene. "We are calling on individuals to stay in touch with us, especially during the summer, and to take the initiative if they see any violations and to call us on our hotline," said Mr al Reyaysa. He said consumers should avoid exposing food to the sun while carrying it home and ensuring that food preparation areas were kept clean.
Dubai Municipality said it was working on a series of food safety programmes and procedures. "Restaurant kitchens are all temperature-controlled and the temperature inside the kitchen should not vary much between summer and winter," said Bobby Krishna, senior food studies officer in the municipality's food control section. "So, there are no contributing factors to bacterial growth in summer inside a restaurant and the threat of food poisoning remains the same throughout the year."
It was important to be careful, however, when transporting or cooking food outdoors, he said. "Foods that are supposed to be held cold can become warm faster, and certain types of bacteria that are associated with cold foods can multiply rapidly," he said. "Cold foods have to be handled very carefully. Reduce the time that you leave such foods in the car because they can become unsafe very quickly."