ABU DHABI // Food safety experts have backed the new hygiene and safety rules for small grocery shops.
The new regulations forced hundreds of shops to close when they came into force on January 1.
Many will shut permanently, but others are renovating and will reopen under the new Baqala brand.
Some supermarket chains including Spinneys and the Co-operative Society also plan dozens of new local stores.
Some experts said a more flexible approach could have helped more of the old stores to renovate and stay open, but others said a strict deadline was the only way some shop owners would adhere to modern hygiene standards.
New requirements include proper air-conditioning, a three-phase power supply, new shelving, an aluminium ceiling and new wall and ground ceramic tiles.
Good fridges are vital, said Abeer Al Jundi, a food safety consultant at Specifico and Co, whose clients include Galleries Lafayette Gourmet in Dubai.
"It has to be kept below 5°C because above that temperature bacteria will start multiplying. To control the multiplication of bacteria, you need a decent fridge."
Keeping enough space between the shopping aisles is also necessary to ensure proper air circulation and hygiene.
"If it's too crowded, the temperature will rise and it'll be too hot," said Alfa Shiya, also at Specifico. "The temperature between some aisles must remain under 5°C."
Wolfgang Reatschel, managing director of Nordien-System, a catering equipment company in Dubai, said automatic doors also helped hygiene. "An automatic door keeps insects out of the shops. If you have that or a proper fly killer, you shouldn't find any insects in your shop."
But he questioned whether shop owners should have been forced to close so abruptly. The enforcement of the December 31 deadline came as a shock to many, even though Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority published the rules as long ago as May 2011.
"Some of them should get warnings and be given training and ideas about what the expectations are according to food safety regulations," he said. "Closing down a shop should really be the last step, because of their negligence to act."
Sven Mostegl, a food safety expert in Dubai, said: "If shop owners or staff make a mistake, like leaving expired juice on shelves, they should get fined first.
"The penalty must be comparable to the mistake, it's not normal or fair to shut them down. I believe in giving chances but if people start ignoring them, then there's no other choice then to close them down."
But he said Abu Dhabi was moving in the right direction in terms of food safety. "This is the best way to protect the customer, there's really nothing better. This will improve food safety and hygiene across the emirate."
Mr Reatschel was also clear that the changes were for the better. "Time means experience and Abu Dhabi is slowly getting there," he said.
"I am confident it is following the right path to reach higher standards."