There have been no confirmed cases of illness linked to E. coli bacteria in the city, authorities say, after reports that rocket salad leaves sold in Dubai and Sharjah were highly contaminated.
Dubai expert seeks to calm E. coli fears
DUBAI // There have been no confirmed cases of illness linked to E. coli bacteria in the city, authorities said yesterday, after reports that rocket salad leaves sold in Dubai and Sharjah were highly contaminated with dangerous faecal matter.
"To say that bacteria are causing harm to the public, we need disease data as well," Khalid Mohammed Sharif, the municipality's director of food control, said.
"We are currently working with the Dubai Health Authority on food-borne disease surveillance and till now we have not received any confirmed cases of illness linked to pathogenic strains of E. coli.
"More research is needed to find out the prevalence of any diseases linked to E. coli in Dubai and we will be happy to work with the universities and laboratories to find out more details about the issue in hand," he said.
Some restaurants and supermarkets across the Emirates are re-evaluating how the rocket salad leaves they sell are packaged and cleaned amid the reports. Others defended their establishments' practices.
A study by a researcher at the American University of Sharjah, reported by The National yesterday, found high levels of E. coliand other faecal coliform - the rod-shaped bacteria typified by E. Coli - on every sample of rocket bought at 64 different food stores in Dubai and Sharjah. The salad greens are also known as jarjeer and arugula.
It was not clear whether the rocket leaves tested were grown in the UAE or imported.
The tests were conducted by Dr Dennis Russell throughout the year, and as recently as last month. He said levels of harmful bacteria he found were higher than in a lavatory.
"We have tested several products in Dubai over a period of several years and we have never come across this particular strain of bacteria," Mr Sharif said.
Supermarkets and suppliers in Dubai said they tended not to do additional testing or cleaning for rocket lettuce when it was sold prepackaged.
"It directly goes to the shelves," said Subhash K, a spokesperson for Choithram supermarkets.
The same practice applies for Barakat Vegetables and Fruits, a local company that imports rocket lettuce from Holland and supplies major chains like Choithram and Spinneys, as well as high-end hotels. Its lettuce comes prewashed and prepacked, and is simply stored until it is sold.
The firm relies instead on the stamps of approval from authorities in the exporting country, and those in Dubai who check imported produce. "All the supporting documents are there," said the Barakat business development manager, Jithesh Jayaraj.
Restaurants appear to take additional precautions.
At More Cafe in the Dubai Mall - which serves as much as 30kg of Italian rocket lettuce a week - the lettuce is sanitised with chlorine, said the chef, Cennis Rusd.
Baker and Spice cleans its rocket lettuce, picked from organic farms in Abu Dhabi, with salt water and ice. "The salinity in itself gets rid of quite a bit of anything problematic," said the brand consultant, Yael Mejia.
Some hotels did their own testing as well, said Mr Jayaraj, of Barakat. A few times a year they notified him of levels of E. coli or other problems in their vegetables, usually those grown in the region, he said.
In light of the new findings, he and others said they would consider checking their supplies - or their suppliers.
Restaurants in Sharjah said the municipality closely monitored the quality and safety of produce sold.
Emad Banurah, the owner of Joraif for Mandi restaurant in Abu Shagara, said that municipality inspectors had been at his restaurant twice and taken samples of food items, including salads, and passed all of them.
"If the municipality advises that some bacteria are prevalent, we shall stop serving salads," he said. "We are concerned about people's safety more than are our profits."
Abdul Aziz Mohammed, who owns Mukalla restaurant on King Faisal Road, said that he bought salad and other vegetables from the fruit and vegetable market owned and run by the municipality.
"If anything is wrong or unfit for consumption, the municipality would be the first to know," he said. "The learned doctor should take his findings to the municipality and have their scientists take a look."
Sharjah Municipality officials did not respond to calls seeking comment.
In Abu Dhabi, which was not included in the study, customers said they would continue purchasing rocket despite reports of contamination.
"I trust that if it is sold at a big place like Carrefour, then it should be alright," said Hewida Metwny as she shopped for produce at the hypermarket in Marina Mall.
Muneer al Junaibi said he was disturbed by the findings, but did not recall feeling ill from rocket leaves, which he said he ate every day. "I know that it is healthy and the benefits of the vitamins in it," he said. "I try to buy rocket grown in Oman because it is healthier, but many times I cannot know where it comes from - or what is on it."
Mohammed Farhat, the manager of Lebanese Flower restaurant, said he was not worried about rocket salads sold by his restaurant because he cleaned the vegetables according to municipality guidelines, and had not had any reports from customers of problems related to the food.