x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Holy month snack stalls warned to keep clean

Officials say temporary outlets must follow regulations - and threaten closures for establishments that flaunt the law.

DUBAI // Restaurants and cafés that set up outdoor stalls to sell snacks to people breaking their fasts have been instructed to help prevent food poisoning or face being closed down. The municipality has issued guidelines on how snacks should be cooked, handled and stored during Ramadan, when many establishments sell sweet and savoury foods outside their premises.

The stalls are popular with customers breaking their fasts, but Khalid Mohammed Sharif, the director of the food control department, warned that the municipality "has issued a memorandum to all the food outlets to ensure that food is prepared and displayed safely during Ramadan". Any establishment operating a stall must also have approval to display and sell snacks. Bobby Krishna, senior food studies officer, said: "Proper temperatures help control the growth of pathogens in food. Food in the wrong temperature is considered a serious risk factor.

"The open display of food leads to contamination and renders the food unsafe for consumption. Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens can find their way into the food through a contaminated environment, people and pests." Establishments that break the regulations face fines of between Dh200 and Dh20,000. They can also be shut down. Mr Sharif urged consumers not to buy food from outlets that did not follow the handling instructions. "Consume the food as soon as possible and do not store it for more than two hours."

The municipality's guidelines say that any food "with stuffed meat, vegetables and eggs" should be kept at 65°C or above. They also include details on how each type of food should be handled. "Food handlers who sell snacks should maintain high standards of personal hygiene," Mr Sharif said. "Staff should not use bare hands to handle snacks. Snacks should be sold in clean packs." Ali Mustafa, at the Tasty Cafeteria in Deira, said it sold out of its snacks every day during the holy month.

"We put them out around 5.30pm and they are sold out by the time the fast breaks," he said. Of the guidelines, Mr Mustafa said: "This will affect business as small cafeterias do not have the equipment to keep food constantly heated. We plan to cook in proper proportions so that snacks are sold out within two hours when they are still fresh." The move follows a series of steps taken by the department to ensure food safety. This month, the municipality announced plans to offer training sessions on food hygiene to consumers at leading supermarkets throughout Ramadan.

Officers have met representatives of the major supermarkets to work out ways of improving food hygiene and awareness drives have been launched. The issue of hygiene was thrust into the spotlight this summer by the deaths of four children due to suspected food poisoning. The municipality said this month that 65 food outlets had been temporarily closed this year because of safety violations. pmenon@thenational.ae