x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai food code tightens the rules on non-halal food sales and allergens

Food safety: 'Big nine' potentially dangerous allergens to come with warning labels, while sale of non-halal products must be displayed on a separate page in restaurants menus.

A customer at the Union Cooperate supermarket at Al Barsha Mall, Dubai. Goods for sale will soon have to carry warnings if they contain one of the nine major food allergens. Jaime Puebla / The National
A customer at the Union Cooperate supermarket at Al Barsha Mall, Dubai. Goods for sale will soon have to carry warnings if they contain one of the nine major food allergens. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // Food sold in Dubai will have to be labelled with warnings of nine dangerous allergens under a new municipality food code.

The code will also include tighter rules on the sale and handling of food containing alcohol and pork, and new procedures for recalling contaminated food.

Food with shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, sesame seeds, fish, egg, milk or gluten – or that has been prepared in the same area as any of these – must now be labelled as such on jars, boxes and menus.

Those ingredients are the most likely to result in death if eaten by someone allergic to them, said Bobby Krishna, the municipality’s senior food health officer.

“They’re called the ‘big nine’ because they are the most serious,” Mr Krishna said. “[Allergens] are a problem. We’re getting notifications. We have a lot of tourists coming in so we need to work on that because a lot of people who visit have allergies.”
Bashir Yousef, a municipality food safety expert, said  regulations needed to be tighter for non-halal food.

“For the sale of pork, the regulations weren’t as detailed,” Mr Yousef said. “It was dealt with broadly but we’ve added new details.”

Pork products can now only be sold in supermarkets of at least 232 square metres.

“This will allow more area for separation to ensure there is no cross-contamination [with halal food],” Mr Yousef said.

Non-halal food must be displayed on a separate page in restaurant menus, in English and Arabic.

Supermarkets must appoint a staff member to be in charge of handling pork products and their temperature control. A staff member must also be assigned for preparing pork products, and there will be regular inspections by the municipality.

“Some Muslims see people handling pork and then halal products, so we want to ensure this does not happen,” said Mr Yousef.
Khalid Al Awadi, the municipality’s director of food control, said: “We’re not just giving them instructions to implement. They should understand why, how and when.”

Recalls of contaminated food should also be quicker with the new procedures.

“Before, we just said that the department had to have a traceability and recall system,” Mr Yousef said. “Now we indicate all the details, including the registration of items, and we have more communication.”

That could cut recall time from between two days and two weeks to less than 24 hours.

“We needed to spend extra energy to find out where it came from and it takes more time,” Mr Krishna said.

There will also be an emirate-wide log of suspected foodborne illness.

“Dubai is an international city with 13,000 food premises, 480 hotels and more than 3,000 restaurants,” Mr Al Awadi said. “That number is increasing by 10 per cent [a year] and they must have a code to implement [practices] in an easier way.”

The 50-page book will also specify temperatures for cooking, thawing, freezing and cooling food.

“There’s a lot of misinformation put out by people that is not scientifically based,” said Richard Sprenger, a British food-safety expert who worked on the code.

“People often say that you can rely on colour changes during cooking to tell if the food is safe but when you look at research, if you take a burger you should cook it to 75°C.

“The Food and Drug Authority in the US states 30 per cent of burgers that are brown are undercooked and in the Middle East there are a lot of systems that have been introduced that are not based on science.”

cmalek@thenational.ae