x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Food safety inspections steam ahead

Restaurants, groceries and other food sellers will face many more inspections in 2010, food safety officials pledge.

Food inspections have helped stores understand hygiene requirements.
Food inspections have helped stores understand hygiene requirements.

ABU DHABI // Restaurants, groceries and other food sellers will face many more inspections in 2010, food safety officials pledged yesterday. They also said they would try to convince people to not buy more food than they need.

In announcing its end-of-year statistics yesterday, the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority said its inspectors had temporarily shut down 76 restaurants and groceries in the emirate over the 12 months. They conducted more than 60,000 spot checks in restaurants, groceries, meat counters and hotel eateries. They handed out almost 15,000 warnings and 800 fines. This is believed to be the first time the authority has released comprehensive statistics for a full year to the media, making it difficult to determine whether more penalties were handed down than in past years.

The food authority has a three-tier system to punish food-safety offenders. Warnings come first, and repeat violators are fined and then closed if they do not address the authority's concerns. In December alone, the authority temporarily closed five establishments in the capital: Golden Fork on Khalifa Street was closed because of an insect infestation, staff not adhering to uniform codes, exposed garbage bins and sewage pipes and improper defrosting of food; Al Fardoos Grocery on Airport Road was shut for selling expired products, poor general hygiene and proliferation of insects; and the Khorfakkan Restaurant and Kitchen on Salam Street was closed due to cockroaches and rust in the refrigerator.

Two establishments in Al Ain - Al Badiya Kitchen and Farhana Grocery - were also closed temporarily. The authority also said it would continue naming offenders. Fear of exposure in the media has been a factor in merchants' cleaning up their businesses, it said. "A lot of them do not want to fall in the circle of fines and closures which harms the name of the establishment and reduces its customers," said Mohammed al Reyaysa, the food authority spokesman.

The policy "also helped in reducing the number of violations to a great extent because of greater awareness among the owners of food establishments and workers there of hygiene requirements and food safety laws", he said. The agency's strategy for 2010 will involve a higher number of inspections. New legislation will also spell out food safety procedures more clearly. Repeated closures will result in jail sentences for restaurant operators. The law is expected to take effect early this year.

A spokesman for Lulu Hypermarkets, whose meat counter in Al Wahda Mall was closed last summer for selling expired meat and other offences, said the inspections had helped his stores better understand hygiene requirements. "We fully agree with the policy of the Government to increase inspections," he said. "What we also like to see is more interaction and communication between retailers and the officials so they can inform us and train us with regards to the new guidelines, especially when new initiatives come into force."

The food authority also stressed the need to educate customers in food safety, adding that education would form a core part of its strategy for the new year. Many consumers buy more groceries than they need, according to the agency, with some using as little as 20 per cent. This leads to a lot of waste, but a bigger problem is the consumption of food past its expiration date, which can lead to food poisoning, Mr al Reyaysa said.

Some shoppers questioned the efficacy of trying to change consumer habits. "There is no way you can control consumer behaviour, because number one, the supermarkets want to make money and you can't tell people 'buy less,'" said Halla Sheblaq, 25, a Palestinian-American landscape architect. "Number two, consumers won't listen to you anyway. It is my choice if I want to buy 10 apples or two. Even if the goal is to spread awareness I don't think it will work in the UAE, because the UAE culture is a highly consuming one."

kshaheen@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani