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Let everyone in UAE know about food safety

Abu Dhabi's "name and shame" campaign will help food-related businesses to maintain high standards and keep the public safe.

Food safety is an important issue for everyone. And so the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority's plan to intensify its "name and shame" campaign, identifying to the public individual food outlets that fall short of the highest standards, is both significant and welcome.

In each emirate, officials work to ensure that every food-related business complies with the standards, and these rules - on production, refrigeration, storage, packaging, cleanliness, and more - are doubly important in this country's summer climate.

Wholesalers and merchants have a strong self-interest in being vigilant about food safety, but violations are not unknown and food poisoning cases are in the headlines each summer. This cause is suspected in several child deaths in recent years.

Violations are rarely deliberate, but sometimes out-of-date or otherwise suspect products are sold purposefully.

Whether the problem is someone cutting corners or just a lack of attention to normal standards, cases do occur. A survey by Abu Dhabi's health authority found 627 cases of food-poisoning in the first six months of last year, compared with 420 in the same period a year before, and 288 in 2010.

The Food Control Authority has been publically naming shops that fail to meet standards, and says now that it will step up that approach. It is a technique that may cause unease in some quarters, because in the culture of the Arabian Peninsula public criticism of an individual is not common.

However, this campaign is aimed at corporate entities, not individuals, and the strong public interest in food safety more than justifies this practice. Indeed it is heartening to knowthat even big retailers are being identified in public and by name when they are found to fall short in matters of food freshness and safety.

It is no coincidence, then, that this campaign has already started yielding results. "The number of violations has dropped considerably after we started publishing the names of food outlets that flout safety and hygiene regulations," one official is quoted as saying.

Giving consumers information, and letting them make choices, is just the way a market economy is supposed to work.

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