ABU DHABI // A popular restaurant in the capital has been shut down after inspectors found its fridges laden with rotting meat and its kitchen crawling with cockroaches and rats.
Not only were the drains at the Madinat Zayed branch of the Al Ibrahimi restaurant mouldy and overflowing, the cooking area was infested with an array of pests.
Inspectors from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority noted that the air in the badly ventilated kitchen was heavy with the stench of tens of kilograms of expired meat and chicken. It also ordered that 85kg of meat should be destroyed.
Defrosted food sat next to dirty and broken cooking utensils and crockery; eggs, vegetables and other food were stored together in the fridge, while more vegetables hung under the sink.
By way of a small mercy, the kitchen was inadequately lit, so the inspectors struggled to see the full horror of the scene around them.
The restaurant was one of 70 food outlets inspected as a result of the authority's recent food safety campaign. And it will stay closed, said Mohamed Jalal al Reyaysa, the ADFCA's director of communications, until its hygiene is up to par.
"We were shocked to find that the restaurant, which we understand is a popular eatery, was functioning in violation of all norms of public hygiene," he said. He said conditions in the kitchen "could have caused many health hazards for consumers".
Meanwhile in Dubai, food safety experts are studying whether consumers are at added risk of illness in summer.
Dubai Municipality commissioned the year-long investigation in collaboration with the US Centre for Disease Control, World Health Organisation and Dubai Health Authority. The results will be released in September.
"It's a misconception that winter here is better than summer for food safety," said Bobby Krishna, the senior food studies and surveys officer at the municipality.
Food should be handled with the same diligence all-year round, he said, but added those travelling abroad during the summer should take care regarding the food and water they consume.
Although there was no evidence that summer was a more crucial period for safety, there were areas of concern, according to Mr Krishna.
"What does require temperature control is usually cold food products like cold cuts, milk and fresh juice," he said.
The nutritional therapist Laura Holland agreed that freshly prepared food was of the utmost importance regardless of the season.
"Saying no to leftovers in favour of foods that have been cooked, prepared and eaten in the same time frame, really cuts down on the growth possibility of bacteria, especially at this hot and humid time of year,"she said.
Bashir Hassan Yousif, a food safety expert at Dubai Municipality, said another issue was refrigeration because systems depended on the ambient temperature. "If the temperature is high, it'll take longer to cool. This is one thing we have to be careful with, especially with hotels and establishments," he said. "They have to ensure a good refrigeration system with efficient maintenance and no breakdowns."
Dubai, he added, was not a place where seasons notably influenced food safety because the majority of kitchens were temperature controlled, but if there were any unusual patterns they would be spotted once the data was analysed.
"Now it's all speculation. The data will provide scientific evidence if peaks are in winter or summer," said Mr Yousif. "There was data collected from hospitals before but not structured. Through the co-operation with CDC, WHO and DHA, we created a better system of investigation, so the fruits of that will be evident from next September."
Once results are studied, corrective actions will be taken. "That way, you know what to look for and what organisms need to be controlled. Whether the problem is from the source or if certain practices are favouring this," he said.
This article has been corrected since original publication. Seventy restaurants were inspected, not closed, as part of the capital's food safety drive.