x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Food-borne diseases on conference agenda

Annual Dubai conference will look at helping emerging economies in the region identify and control disease problems from food.

Khalid Mohammed Shareef, director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality and Mark Napier of Dubai World Trade Centre Gulfood
Khalid Mohammed Shareef, director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality and Mark Napier of Dubai World Trade Centre Gulfood

DUBAI // Officials announced yesterday that avoiding food-borne diseases in emerging economies will be a focus of the Sixth Dubai International Food Safety Conference later this month.

According to Khalid Mohammed Shareef, the director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality, food-borne illnesses are a major health concern, with major outbreaks striking fear in people worldwide.

The Sixth Dubai International Food Safety Conference will run from Feb 27 to March 1, alongside the Gulfood exhibition. With representatives from at least 50 countries participating and 100 industry expert speakers, this year the spotlight is on "Food Safety in Emerging Economies".

A highlight of the conference will be a joint symposium between the municipality, the US Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation (WHO), exploring food-borne disease investigation and surveillance.

The session aims to establish a successful regional system of identification and management. A manual will also be published to ensure the correct code of practice is followed.

Dubai Municipality and Dubai Health Authority (DHA) are also working on a joint project to detect, investigate and control food-borne diseases, which will require all hospitals to report related illnesses to the DHA immediately.

Mr Shareef stressed that food was the responsibility of all involved, "starting at the farm until the fork". The chain includes farmers, manufacturers, scientists, regulators and consumers.

"Before food reaches consumers, it sometimes travels through several countries with varying degrees of control to ensure food safety," Mr Shareef said. "To enhance the safety of the global food supply, we need to look at harmonising standards, sharing scientific data and promoting collaboration between governments - especially between the developed and the developing world."

A major challenge for Dubai Municipality is maintaining high safety standards while coping with food imports that totalled at least 6 million tonnes last year, compared to 4.5 million tonnes in 2009. At least 13,500 food establishments operate in the emirate.

"The amount of imported foods to Dubai is huge, and [the number of] establishments is also increasing," Mr Shareef said. "Bringing it into the country is the easy part; how we handle it is important."

At the upcoming conference, workshops, technical sessions, symposiums and detailed presentations will highlight three key topics: food safety regulations, best practices and awareness.

Dr Karen Hulebak, chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the WHO, will speak about global trade in emerging economies and the importance of common standards.

Others including Kevin Smith, the director of retail for the US Food and Drug Administration, will concentrate on crucial elements affecting the retail sector.

Mark Napier, the exhibition director at the World Trade Centre in Dubai and head of Gulfood, said the city was a trading hub and while trade was important, it should not come at the expense of maintaining "excellent standards".

"We would like to have global standards, but the delivery has to always be local. This is why we have Dubai Municipality's food control working closely with us, ensuring the standards we apply here are communicated effectively to countries around the world," Mr Napier said.