DUBAI // Food colour is not the same as shoe colour - which is why it is just as well the scientists who screen what we eat are on their toes.
Dubai Municipality's Food and Environment Laboratory carried out 65,563 chemical and microbiological tests on food samples in the first half of this year.
"There have been times when we spotted spices that contain colouring only meant for shoes," says Fatima Khalifa, a senior chemical food analyst. "This is strictly prohibited because it could cause cancer."
The labs carry out about 400 different tests, and more are being introduced with the aim of becoming the "best lab in the world", says Maha Swaikeet Al Hajri, of the Food and Environment Laboratory.
"Every step is important. When you delve deeper, it's very critical and complex work," she said. "Every day, new bacteria, chemicals, tests and equipment develop and we must be on top of it."
Scientists are also developing a new E.coli test after the outbreak in Germany this summer that killed at least 53 people.
The laboratory receives up to 200 samples a day, as well as dealing with complaints or queries about possible food poisoning, said Khawla Al Zarooni, who is in charge of sample management.
"Samples usually increase during Ramadan due to higher consumption. Some days we receive no complaints and at other times we receive one or two," she said.