x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ramadan checks catch 31 offenders

Municipal inspectors issue fines and warnings to enforce holy month rules governing the presentation and handling of snacks for sale.

More than 30 food outlets in Dubai have been fined for a variety of offences during Ramadan.
More than 30 food outlets in Dubai have been fined for a variety of offences during Ramadan.

DUBAI // At least 31 food outlets have been fined or cautioned for breaking municipality rules on the display of food during Ramadan. Among the offences were displaying food uncovered, poor personal hygiene and absence of temperature control.

Many of the establishments were fined while others escaped with warnings after giving assurances that they would follow the regulations in future. Cafeterias and some restaurants in Dubai display and sell sweet and savoury foods outside their premises a few hours before the fast is broken during the holy month. The municipality has issued guidelines on how these very popular snacks should be cooked, handled and stored.

"A circular was issued to all cafeterias and restaurants in this regard stating the requirements for displaying of food. Restaurants who fulfil these regulations were issued permits, However, we found violators who had no permit or were not following regulations," said Abdul Aziz Basheer, senior food inspection official at Dubai Municipality's food control department. He said 168 permits had been given out.

The regulations state that the food cannot be displayed until two hours before the iftar break, and should be covered at all times. Cooked food with stuffed meat, vegetables and eggs must be kept at 65°C or above. The rules also cover handling of food and the personal hygiene of the handlers. Although the regulations are in place every year during Ramadan, Mr Basheer agreed that the campaign had been aggressive and more concentrated this year. "This year we have been more strict," he said.

Recent cases of food poisoning as well as the hot weather were the reason for this. "This Ramadan, the temperature is much higher than usual and so we have to be more careful." He warned of heavy fines and possible closures for breaking the rules. A first offence normally leads to a warning; after that fines range from Dh2,000 to Dh4,000 (US$550 to $1,100) and can be doubled for subsequent offences.

Meanwhile, the Dubai Department of Economic Development said that inspection teams were conducting daily checks to ensure food was not being sold illegally during fasting hours. Mohammed Shael, chief executive of the business registration and licensing division of the DED, said: "Restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets that have a trade licence... are not permitted to cook or deliver food during the fasting hours of the month of Ramadan, unless they obtain a special permit from DED.

"We have an inspection team operating from 1pm to 6pm during Ramadan which is inspecting various locations to ensure they are following the rules of holding such a permit," he added. Special permits costing Dh5,110 (US$1,390) allow food establishments to prepare meals and deliver them throughout the day. Mr Shael said more than 510 businesses had been granted such permits this year. Cafeterias in Dubai said they were well aware of the regulations but it was important for them to provide the service. "We received the circular from the municipality and follow all regulations. The food display is very popular and is sold out within an hour of us making it," said Ali Mustafa, of Tasty Cafeteria in Deira.

Mohamed al Reyaysa, the spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said restaurants in the capital also had to adhere to regulations concerning the sale of food during the day in Ramadan. While supermarkets were allowed to operate unhindered, restaurants had to apply for a special licence, serve customers discreetly and not cater to Muslims, who were expected to fast during the holy month. "In Ramadan, normally all food establishments are closed, except for ones that sell to non-Muslims," said Mr al Reyaysa. He added that restaurants were required to have a separate entrance for customers during fasting hours, so food was not served in a "conspicuous way".

It was necessary for everyone to show "respect for the culture and traditions, that people from abroad also need to pay attention to", he said. Restaurant inspections were a "routine" part of wide-ranging spot checks the authority had been conducting in a Ramadan campaign to promote food safety, after it disclosed last month that some Carrefour and Lulu Hypermarket meat counters had been closed for violations that included selling expired products.

"There is a lot more demand and pressure on food establishments in Ramadan, so we worried that some precautions would be overlooked," said Mr al Reyaysa. Different units within the authority had made 1,266 visits to restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, catering companies, supermarkets and vegetable and fruit markets during the first 10 days of Ramadan. The authority issued 359 warnings and recorded 12 more serious violations, but did not close any stores. Mr al Reyaysa said it did not yet have a complete breakdown of the exact offences, but no stores in Abu Dhabi had been fined for operating during fasting hours without a licence. "The restaurants know their rights and their duties," he said.

It will be for the courts to decide how to penalise the restaurants for the 12 serious violations - usually by imposing a fine. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae