Warehouse find is most recent in a spate of food security scares across the UAE but officials say they are on top of situation
14 tonnes of expired products being repackaged for sale seized in Sharjah
Fourteen tonnes of out-of-date foodstuffs and cosmetics being repackaged for sale have been seized from a warehouse in Sharjah in the latest in a spate of food security scares.
The warehouse, in Al Dhaid, was being run by several illegal immigrants and Sharjah Municipality officials and police raided it after a tip-off about a gang tampering with validity dates on produce and selling it on as fresh.
Municipality director Ali Musabbeh Al Tunaiji said on Monday that the men were put under surveillance until they were caught red-handed changing production and expiry dates before repacking the products.
“The warehouse lacked all health standards, and there was quite a spacious area behind the warehouse also used to stock expired products waiting to be dealt with,” said Mr Al Tuniaiju.
More than 5,000 cosmetic products were also seized in the warehouse, in Al Dhaid’s new industrial area, and destroyed.
“A lorry they used to distribute the unfit products was confiscated, and some other equipment used by them to alter dates and repack was also seized,” added Mr Al Tunaiji.
The incident is the latest food security scare in the UAE and has prompted questions about low-paid workers being exploited by rogue operators trying to make a quick buck.
In July Dubai Municipality said it had seized more than 1,300 tonnes of rotten fruit, vegetables and meat from unlicensed markets in the first half of the year, much of which was being stored in unsanitary places. And in the same month a meat factory that processed frozen chicken into mortadella and sausages was shut down in Ras Al Khaimah after it was found to be repackaging huge amounts of spoilt and expired chicken for sale.
Sharjah Municipality said that last year more than 1,200 tonnes of expired food that had been repackaged, ready to be sold, was seized and destroyed.
“Raw meat products should kept in refrigerators and vendors selling such foodstuffs in illegal markets are taking advantage of labourers,” said Dr Jane Darakjian, a nutritionist at Top Medical Centre in Dubai.
“Food which has become contaminated with harmful bacteria causes several illnesses, including colon diseases, cancer and food poisoning.
“Raw or cooked meat, chicken and fish should be covered or it will be exposed to germs and fungus. It also needs to be kept at specific temperatures, depending on if it is cooked or raw meat.”
Sultan Al Tahir, head of the food inspection section at Dubai Municipality, said food sold at random markets can be “extremely dangerous”.
“These items were not tested, they are coming from unknown sources, are not being inspected by health experts,” he said. “Vendors at random markets are selling those items using illegitimate methods.”
Despite the numerous cases, officials insist that food security is a top priority. Omar Al Muhairi, head of food control and inspection at Sharjah Municipality, said that inspections on food outlets such as restaurants, cafeterias, supermarkets, grocery stores and other food-related establishments are conducted regularly.
The municipality’s food safety programme oversees more than 7,000 businesses, he said, and inspections also target street vendors and impromptu markets held in industrial areas.
Fines for individual offenders range from Dh1,000 to Dh5,000, the municipality said.
Mohammed Abbas Al Baloushi, head of the environmental emergency office at Dubai Municipality, said that inspections are also common in his emirate.
“Foodstuff and products sold in illegal markets are unfit for human consumption. Health inspectors carry out regular inspections in these areas to deter vendors from selling spoilt food,” he said, adding that labourers buying items from illegal markets do not understand the dangerous effects of eating spoilt food.
Mr Al Tunaiji appealed to the public in Sharjah to report food safety breaches to the hotline on 993 or through the municipality’s social media accounts.