x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hygiene warning by Abu Dhabi's food safety agency

Outdated attitudes to food safety are to blame for food workers failing hygiene tests, the emirate's food safety watchdog said yesterday.

A worker repacks mutton after cleaning and cutting it at Lulu hypermarket. Safety issues closed the meat counter last summer.
A worker repacks mutton after cleaning and cutting it at Lulu hypermarket. Safety issues closed the meat counter last summer.

ABU DHABI // Outdated attitudes to food safety are to blame for food workers failing hygiene tests, the emirate's food safety watchdog said yesterday. All employees in the industry who handle food must be trained in hygiene by the end of 2012, according to the strategic plan by Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA).

So far 40 per cent of workers, about 17,000, have been trained, and 60 per cent of those have failed the exams. Eleven per cent of all the emirate's food workers have passed. Earlier, the authority partially blamed language barriers for the problem, but yesterday it said the absence of a culture of hygiene and food safety in restaurants and food outlets was also a major cause. "Unfortunately a lot of people think going into the kitchen and dealing with food does not need any science and anyone can do it," said Mohammed al Reyaysa, the authority's spokesman. "This is an old way of thinking and it is changing after the requirements and regulations being implemented."

Mr al Reyaysa's comments came after the release of a wide-ranging annual report, which detailed the agency's programmes, draft laws, financial status and the total number of inspections and food establishment closures last year. The high failure rate on hygiene exams raises questions as to why ADFCA's spending of almost Dh1 billion in 2009 has not led to better results. Passing the tests is currently not a requirement, but Mr al Reyaysa indicated that it may eventually be obligatory for food workers in the emirate, posing a potentially protracted problem for employers.

The training involves teaching best practices in chilling food, cooking, cleaning and avoiding cross-contamination through good personal hygiene. A spokesman for Lulu Hypermarkets, whose meat counter in Al Wahda Mall was closed last summer for selling expired meat and other offences, said that cultural backgrounds can account for the inconsistencies in handling food. "The staff has different nationality backgrounds, and in each country there are slight things that people think are OK to be done that aren't; so when you're following a international code of conduct there is a need to bring them all together," said Mr Nandakumar.

LuLu has worked closely with the ADFCA to increase staff training and ensure standardised food safety and has not received any other warnings from the authority, he said. "Educating staff on importance of hygiene and food handling can only be achieved by constant training and monitoring," said Mr Nandakumar. ADFCA has attempted to solve issues with workers failing the tests because of language barriers and the exams are already offered in Arabic, English, Urdu and Malayalam. According to Stephen Pakenham-Walsh, a food-service consultant based in Abu Dhabi, small aspects of hygiene such as monitoring food temperatures during preparation is still lacking.

"Even down to the preparation of salads and produce, which should be prepared in cold water, but because its not actually chilled water that creates its own problems with other diseases," he said. Over the course of 2009 ADFCA trained border inspectors at Port Zayed in collecting food specimens, and introduced a standardized method for clearing of imported food, which will be implemented at all borders.

Last year the Department of Food Safety at Border Points destroyed 1,048 tonnes of food for not being halal or having exceeded its expiration date. The authorities expenditure which exceeded Dh900 million last year after the agency took up the task of overseeing the emirate's agricultural development. Agriculture was transferred to ADFCA's jurisdiction by a federal law issued in 2007, but work on integrating the departments began in earnest last year.

Income from services and government funding almost doubled from Dh288 million to a little over half a billion dirhams, leaving a deficit of over Dh366 million for 2009. mdetrie@thenational.ae kshaheen@thenational.ae