x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Workers' 'squalid' catering unit closed after hundreds fall sick

Workers suffering from food poisoning have been discharged from the hospital, save for one.

AL GHARBIA // A labour camp where 236 workers were diagnosed with food poisoning has been charged with food safety violations after its catering unit was found to be operating without a licence and under "squalid conditions".

Investigators from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) have closed down the catering unit at the Habshan Labour Camp after 117 workers were taken to Madinat Zayed Hospital on Saturday and Sunday, and a further 119 were treated on site at the camp.

Inspectors found cockroaches inside the water dispensers and destroyed 675kg of cooked rice which was kept in "unsafe conditions for more than four hours", according to a statement released by ADFCA.

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The inspection report stated the camp, which caters for 2,200 workers, was "violating all norms of hygiene and disregarding the health consequences for the labourers".

Cross-contamination - mixing meat, poultry and vegetables, both raw and uncooked, in the same freezer - was apparent, and food products did not have manufacturing details on them, so may have been expired, the report said.

ADFCA inspectors said food was stored in unacceptable temperature conditions: raw meat, fish and vegetables were left near a cooking range; and cooked food, kept in close proximity to unwashed utensils and open dustbins, was left to rot.

Mohammed al Reyaysa, the director of communications at ADFCA, described the conditions as "shocking" and said "the people behind this disaster will not go unpunished".

"Nobody is allowed to cater food without specific licences. Adherence to the food safety rules and regulations in force in the emirate is a must for all," he said.

All but one of the 44 labourers who were kept overnight for observation at the hospital have been discharged.

The condition of one man remaining, who was originally categorised as critical, has since stabilised, said a hospital spokesman. The man has been moved from the intensive care unit to the male medical ward and is expected to be discharged today.

The workers, most of them Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, suffered symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. When 102 of them arrived at the hospital on Saturday, the hospital declared a state of emergency. Another 15 were admitted on Sunday.

"We are continuing lab investigations on the samples we took from the patients to determine the root cause of their symptoms," said the hospital spokesman.

The ADFCA is also awaiting the test results of the food samples gathered.

The camp is operated by Abu Dhabi-based Al Jaber Group, who said "alternative arrangements" for food had been put in place until investigations were complete.

"The safety of our staff is our utmost priority," said a spokesperson for the company. "We are deeply saddened to report that workers have been reported as suffering symptoms consistent with food poisoning. The group has ensured that all those affected are receiving appropriate treatment in Madinat Zayed Hospital and is attempting to isolate the source of the problem," the company said in a written statement.

"In the interim, to ensure the safety and health of our staff, we have made alternative arrangements for their meals whilst we continue to work to identify the source of this matter. In more than two decades of operation, and serving 150,000 meals a day all over the UAE, this is the first instance of food poisoning at any of our camps."

hkhalaf@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Preeti Kannan and Megan Detrie