DUBAI // Chocolates, crisps, soft drinks and chewing gum will be banned from every school canteen in Dubai under new rules to encourage safe and healthy eating.
The regulations will also limit the sale of food and drinks that cause common allergies or are harmful to children with diabetes and other conditions.
School meals will be inspected for nutritional value and schools will be expected to make pupils and parents aware of the ingredients. As well as banning unhealthy food, the rules list foods that are encouraged, such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
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The regulations have been drawn up by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Dubai Municipality, and will be enforced in public and private schools from the start of the new academic year in September.
"We are trying to tackle two issues," said Dr Ali al Marzooqi, director of the DHA's Public Health and Safety department. "The food needs to be safe, which means ensuring there are no products or ingredients that cause allergies or are harmful to children.
"And the other is to promote healthy eating, so schools should be selling food that is good for the students' wellbeing."
The need for nutrition guidelines emerged from a survey of school canteens last year, Dr al Marzooqi said.
Of the 216 schools polled by the DHA, nearly a third served hotdogs and burgers, and nearly two-thirds sold sugary processed fruit juices. About 7 per cent provided fizzy drinks every day, and 1 per cent sold energy drinks.
A fifth of schools had vending machines, of which 12 per cent were stocked with soft drinks. More than half the schools provided fresh fruit salads, but only three times a week.
About 60 per cent of school administrators said they needed more help from health professionals to make their canteens healthy, 47 per cent asked for nutritional educational support from teachers and 43 per cent asked for parents' support.
Dr al Marzooqi said some schools promoted a healthy lifestyle by offering good food choices, but fewer than half followed common nutrition guidelines.
While schools did not perform well in terms of healthy-eating options, a recent municipality-led inspection found most were complying with hygiene and safety standards, said Ahmed Abdul Rahman al Ali, head of the Food Inspection section at Dubai Municipality.
"We found only a few violations in terms of food stored at wrong temperatures and some suppliers did not have permits," he said.
He said the regulations stipulated that workers must be clean and should wear hair nets and protective clothing while serving food.
The municipality will also enforce facility and storage rules so that food does not rot or become infested.
The new regulations will be extended to outside establishments such as caterers, bakeries and groceries that supply school canteens, Mr al Ali said.
"There should be no cross contamination. Raw meat should be prepared away from other foods such as salads, otherwise there could be bacteria that cause food poisoning."
Parents welcomed the new regulations yesterday. One Emirati mother, Hind al Muhairi, said her children were offered popcorn and hotdogs at school, which she would like removed from the menu.
"It would be great if these guidelines were put in place and schools were monitored."
She said her children were allergic to certain items and if schools made parents aware of the ingredients it would help to avoid accidents.
Fida Tahboub, whose son attends a private school in Dubai, said: "When I was at school here they sold all kinds of candy and I do not want my son having all that when I am not around to monitor his consumption."
New guidelines to focus on health and hygiene
New guidelines for school canteens in Dubai will include:
1. A ban on fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate.
2. Schools must monitor the nutritional value of the meals offered to pupils.
3. Care must be taken to not sell food that may trigger common allergies.
4. Schools must ensure food is suitable for pupils with conditions such as diabetes.
5. Canteens must store food appropriately before serving to avoid contamination.
6. Service providers and caterers at the school should adhere to safety and hygiene measure while preparing food.
7. Cafeteria workers must follow hygiene standards and use hair nets and gloves while serving pupils.
* Afshan Ahmed