x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Inspectors shut 65 food outlets over hygiene

Dubai sets up special team to target culprits after officials find a catalogue of offences at restaurants and shops in the emirate.

DUBAI // Sixty-five food outlets were shut down by Dubai Municipality in the first half of the year because of food safety violations, officials said yesterday. Inspectors who visited the outlets found food being served uncooked, food left out at room temperature, untrained managers and staff, and poor personal hygiene, including workers failing to wash their hands.

The offenders included cafes, restaurants, canteens and grocery stores. Around 4,600 cases were recorded, with 65 so serious that they led to premises being temporarily closed, the Food Control department said. This week, it set up a special nine-member team including food study experts, food officials and inspectors to address food safety. The issue was highlighted recently by the deaths of four children in cases linked to food poisoning.

Khalid al Awadhi, the head of the department, said there were many options available to inspectors before they had to close a restaurant. "We evaluate the severity and the extent of the violation before deciding to close a restaurant, which is the last resort," he said. "There are violations that are known to contribute directly to food-borne illnesses or disease. "Such violations need to be corrected at the time of inspections. Failure to correct a critical violation at the time of inspection will result in an automatic failure of inspection and/or immediate closing of the establishment or other enforcement actions."

The outlets are allowed to reopen once the violations are put right. The new team has been formed to focus on educating offenders rather than shutting them down. It has drawn up a checklist of 25 possible violations. Businesses that fail inspections will be given three days to rectify the problem; repeat violations will result in temporary closure and financial penalties. Restaurants responsible for violations that could directly affect the health of customers would be immediately closed, said Bobby Krishna, a senior food studies officer with the department who is a member of the special team.

"As per the new method adopted by the special team, we would work with food outlets to solve their defects and help them reopen in a safer environment," he said. "We realise that we need to give time and assistance to offenders to correct themselves. "We will hold meetings with eatery owners and discuss what led to their closure. "We will support the unit to rectify their problem, as educating businessmen and the public is the only way to tackle this problem."

Spoiled food was blamed for the deaths of Nathan and Chelsea D'Souza, aged five and eight, who died in Dubai in June after becoming ill following a takeaway meal from a Chinese restaurant. Also in June, the death of Marwa Faisal, four, from Sharjah, was attributed to food poisoning, as was the death of two-year-old Rishad Pranav in Dubai last month. Dubai Municipality said it had recorded cases 60 cases of food poisoning this year. Of these, 40 involved the victim eating at home.

It is initiating several awareness drives to educate the public as well as businesses. This week, the municipality urged all restaurants to issue advisory notes with takeaways and restaurant "doggy bags". Advisory tags prepared by the municipality stating the date, time and information on the handling of food should be used, officials said. Another public awareness drive is being planned to begin by Ramadan.

"The public, staff employed in food outlets, shoppers in malls, housewives and children will be educated about healthy eating habits and dealing with items safely in this campaign," said Mr al Awadhi. Posters and pamphlets containing food safety tips and handling methods will be distributed in eateries and other outlets. The municipality held an information session this week with chefs and hygiene managers from 50 of Dubai's hotels to educate them on food handling. It intends to hold the sessions on a regular basis.

"We discussed the recent food poisoning issues and the problems we face in ensuring food safety," said Chef Muthu, corporate chef for the Lotus Group of Hotels in Dubai. "These sessions are very useful as they educate and inform us on what is expected."
pmenon@thenational.ae