x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Customers asked to sign waivers after food poisoning deaths

Restaurants say they cannot be responsible if customers fall ill from food they take away.

The Sheraton hotel in Abu Dhabi no longer allows diners to take food away with them.
The Sheraton hotel in Abu Dhabi no longer allows diners to take food away with them.

ABU DHABI // Diners who take away meals in "doggy bags" are being asked by restaurants and hotels to sign waivers saying the businesses will not be responsible for the quality of the food once it is off the premises. The Sheraton hotel, on Abu Dhabi's Corniche, has even imposed a ban on food being taken out to avoid any risk of it going off in the summer heat.

The move comes after food poisoning was cited in the recent deaths of four children. Spoiled food was blamed for the deaths of Nathan and Chelsea D'Souza, aged five and eight, who died in Dubai in June after becoming ill following a takeaway meal from a Chinese restaurant. Also in June, the death of Marwa Faisal, a four-year-old from Sharjah, was attributed to food poisoning, as was the death of two-year-old Rishad Pranav in Dubai last month.

The Kempinski group, which runs a hotel and restaurants in the Mall of the Emirates, is requiring customers to sign waivers that they will not hold the restaurants responsible for the consequences of eating food that they take away. Nasser Fawzi, Kempinski's manager of sales and marketing, said the aim was primarily to educate customers about the dangers of taking doggy bags, and was prompted by the children's deaths.

"There is a disclaimer if they take food away, saying they should eat it within a limited time - I think it's two or three hours - or the hotel isn't responsible," he said. "There was an incident a few months ago and that's why the hotel implemented this. We want everyone to understand. That's especially in this country, where it's so hot. People can't keep food in their car and go shopping. "We came up with the disclaimer about a month ago but we're in the process of designing stickers to go on."

Although the Government had been pushing the food hygiene message, the warnings to customers was an initiative by the Kempinski group rather than being imposed by regulation, he added. Kempinski already abided by a rigid set of international food safety standards - the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system - but could not control what happened once the food left the premises.

Holger Schroth, Kempinski's general manager, said: "Following the introduction of the disclaimer, we will soon place stickers onto all of our takeaway containers and packaging which also define our recommendations for the consumption of leftover and takeaway food items, to assist guests to make educated choices." Another Dubai restaurant, Calicut Paragon, has stickers put on all takeaway meals advising customers to eat the contents within two hours.

A spokesman for the Sheraton in Abu Dhabi said guests were not allowed to take food away because of previous incidents in which some customers had suffered food poisoning and blamed the hotel. "Once they take it away, we don't know what's happening to the food or what temperature they're keeping it in," he said. The Shangri La in Abu Dhabi also abides by HACCP standards and runs has a disclaimer system for those seeking to take food away, although Youssef Kandalaft, its spokesman, said it received very few requests for doggy bags.

"With the weather nowadays, if food is kept in a car for half an hour, it's spoiled," he said. "This is so the customer is aware for their own safety because maybe they're not aware of the hazards." Legal opinion on whether waivers would hold up in court is divided - they have never been tested in the UAE, but have been deemed invalid in test cases in Britain. Such practices are not new to the UAE. The Shangri La hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi already required customers to sign disclaimers if they ordered burgers that were cooked anything less than well done.

In February last year, La Moda restaurant, in Dubai's Media City, imposed a disclaimer system for anyone wanting to take a doggy bag, even though it was the coolest time of the year. Doctors have warned that the UAE has an unusually high number of cases of food poisoning, prompting calls for public information campaigns about the hazards, along with advice on how to avoid it. Dr Sabina al Aidarous, a GP at Imperial Healthcare Institute in Dubai Healthcare City, said the prevalence of food poisoning in the UAE was much higher than in other countries in which she had lived and worked.

It particularly posed a risk to the very young and the elderly, she said. She added that a get-tough approach to food hygiene had been underway before the children's deaths. A six-month trial of a federal hotline to report unsafe food handling practices fielded nearly 500 calls, the rate of which increased by 25 per cent in the weeks following the deaths of the D'Souza children. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority replaced its previous complaints process with a centralised government contact number to streamline the alerts system and speed up responses.

Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah also had hotlines to report bad food handling practices. jhenzell@thenational.ae