x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Sharjah trains staff for safer eateries

Health official pledges all restaurants up to par within four years.

DUBAI // Workers in all of Sharjah's restaurants will be trained in food safety within four years, a municipality official said yesterday.

Launched last month, the Food Safety Programme aims to educate and train all food workers on general hygiene practices. Already, 10 food establishments have received training certificates.

Dr Sheikha Rasha al Qasimi, Sharjah's assistant director general of health, environment and quality affairs, said yesterday that food in the emirate was prepared in clean kitchens by trained staff. "Any person that enters that restaurant or factory and sees [the certificate] knows that all the products that come out of that area are safe for eating," she said.

Sharjah has had issues with food poisoning. In June 2009, a four-year-old girl died and her brother was hospitalised because of severe food poisoning. The family had ordered breakfast from a restaurant near their home.

Dr al Qasimi said she hoped that the new efforts would ensure that all aspects of the food industry - from factories to home delivery - were safe. "It's taking time, but it's going down the right path."

Restaurants and cafeterias will be the first to be certified, followed by manufacturing and production companies, and retail outlets. The municipality is prioritising training for managers. Dr al Qasimi said managers were important players in food safety because they were able to implement change in the kitchen.

Training courses have been designed for different job roles including manufacturing, storage and kitchen work, and the programme is offered in Arabic, English, Hindi, Urdu and Malay.

The UAE's diverse population is a challenge for governments and companies that want to change restaurant practices, according to Dr Paul Hall, the president of AIV Microbiology and Food Safety Consultants.

"International migration is a major factor [for poor practice]," he said. "Changing ethnic patterns can change practices and preferences towards food safety."

But for the Sharjah Municipality, the biggest barrier to improving how food is handled stemmed from a lack of education among workers, officials said. To account for illiteracy levels, food handlers take pictorial exams.

The municipality had originally planned to hold exams at Sharjah University, but Dr al Qasimi worried that the academic setting might intimidate people and scare them away from getting certification.

Instead, the test is taken at the Food Control Laboratory.

Taking worker concerns into account is part of the reason the programme has met with minimal resistance, Dr al Qasimi said. "We took ideas from people in the sector about how they wanted to change their own establishments."