ABU DHABI // In the kitchen of the Qwaidi al Nablusi patisserie, a lone insect scuttled across the wall. "That's a cockroach," said Khaled al Katheri, pointing. "You'll need to bring pest control in." He was just one of 11 Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority inspectors making the rounds yesterday at bakeries and sweet shops ahead of Ramadan.
"You need to close off the ventilation shaft completely," he told staff. "Where there is openings, things from outside can filter in and get into the sweets." At 52 establishments across the city, inspectors checked workers, raw materials, equipment and general hygiene standards. They swabbed counter surfaces for bacteria, rummaged through fridges and examined the nooks and crannies of kitchens across the city looking for expired food, unclean surfaces or other threats to public health.
"We want the food establishments to be extremely sensitive to the hygienic and safety concerns of the public," said Mohammed al Reyaysa, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA). "Our objective is to let the public welcome the holy month of Ramadan with absolutely no apprehensions about the foods they buy and consume. He added: "There's been a huge improvement of standards from when the ADFCA first opened."
"Now there are not supposed to be any open-air displays, and there must be different temperatures for each food in different food sections." He also warned consumers to be careful when buying in bulk - as is common during Ramadan. "While we try to make sure food is safe, we also need the public to practise good buying habits, as well as transfer and store things properly to avoid food poisoning," said Mr al Reyaysa.
Last year, Dubai municipality set down safety regulations for outdoor stalls selling iftar snacks. In Abu Dhabi, however, such stalls are banned. If food is being unsafely served or stored, the outlet can eventually be closed. That remains a last resort, however. Initially, premises are issued a warning. If that warning is not heeded, they are taken to court and fined. The inspectors referred two outlets to court yesterday, although the ADFCA declined to name them.
Of the remaining outlets inspected yesterday, 39 received warnings. Health hazards included bins that lacked foot pedals and so needed to be opened by hand; unused equipment left on surfaces in the kitchen; presence of dirt and pests; food covered with cloth instead of plastic; and packages of sweets being sold without labelling of ingredients or expiry dates. The authority will now work with all 39 to remedy the problems.
Inspections were vital to safeguard hygiene standards, said Abdulla al Junaibi, another inspector. "The bakeries need to prepare themselves for Ramadan," he said. "If we come at Ramadan it will be too late for them to adopt new practices." In the back room of the patisserie, Mr al Katheri informed the head pastry chef about the changes required. The shop needed new rubbish bins, and a better handwashing regime among its employees.
Staff will also have to separate the layers of its cakes with wax paper before putting them in the fridge. "You can't re-use this yogurt container," he warned, checking inside a large bucket. "They must buy new containers, not reuse anything that has been used before." In the end, the Qwaidi al Nablusi patisserie received a warning. "This is the first time," said Mr al Katheri at the end of the inspection.
"Last time I was here everything was satisfactory, and they always work well with us to improve." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org