x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Warnings up, but fewer food safety fines

Health inspectors issued far fewer fines to restaurants in the capital last month for hygiene violations, although they issued 60 per cent more warnings.

ABU DHABI // Health inspectors issued far fewer fines to restaurants in the capital last month for hygiene violations, although they issued 60 per cent more warnings. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority said it closed one food retailer and fined three restaurants in January, compared to 12 fines and one closure in the same month last year. The numbers offer the first sign that the authority's new hardline approach is working, it said.

The tough new measures include naming restaurants that are closed, as well as releasing often graphic descriptions of the violations, such as insect infestations. "There is discipline now," said Mohammed al Reyaysa, the authority's spokesman. "At first they were not taking it seriously, but they saw that any organisation that is lax faces difficult punishments. If they want to compete in the market their standards need to be high, especially if they want their business to succeed."

The authority also said it issued 416 warnings to eateries, compared to 260 in January last year, indicating that restaurants are still having trouble meeting all the regulations. More than 2,400 inspections were carried out. It added that it temporarily closed five wholesalers and warehouses. It did not disclose the names of the retailers or detail their violations. More than two tonnes of meat were destroyed as a result of the inspections.

The food authority uses a three-tier system to punish violators, which starts with warnings, followed by fines and then temporary closures for repeat offenders. A new law governing food safety at all levels of production is expected to be passed soon, and operators hope it will clarify the authority's regulations. The authority's monthly report also highlights a disparity in regional food safety procedures.

More than 120 tonnes of imported food products were destroyed on the emirate's borders, compared to just over 20 tonnes in January of last year, for not meeting the Government's health and safety standards. Most of these products were destroyed at the Ghoueifat crossing, on the Saudi border. A further 59 tonnes were refused entry into the country. "The stringent measures on the border crossings have a large impact on food security in Abu Dhabi," said Mr al Reyaysa.

These measures are part of newly introduced regulations that govern inspections on the border, which also classify the riskiness of imported food. kshaheen@thenational.ae