x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The hunt is on for illegal food and alcohol sellers

Trade in illegal alcohol and food puts labourers lives at risk, says Dubai Municipality

DUBAI // The municipality is cracking down on hawkers who sell illegal alcohol and food to workers in Al Quoz labour camps.

According to the head of the Environmental Emergency Office, Khalid Salem Selaiteen, inspectors have seized 67 tonnes of alcohol between June and September and arrested two men.

Working alongside police officers, inspectors also handled about seven cases last month where suspect food items were sold from the back seat of a car.

"Our main priorities are illegal alcohol and unregulated food sold in plastic bags and in the back of cars that could be unsafe for consumption," he said, adding that municipal inspectors were on the lookout for offenders "24 hours a day".

"We have great co-operation with the police and our inspections will continue throughout the day and night," said Mr Selaiteen.

Since the department began alcohol inspections this year, they have uncovered large quantities in abandoned labour camps.

Mr Selaiteen said the alcohol was brought from abroad and hidden underground in Al Quoz to be consumed mainly by labourers.

Hawkers also prey on labourers who are looking for affordable food with items such as chicken, vegetables and fruit that have not passed proper inspection procedure.

"When we talk about an 'authorised seller', that means time and effort has been invested in ensuring the food is safe from the port to consumer," said senior food studies and surveys officer in Dubai Municipality's Food Control Department, Bobby Krishna. "If someone is bypassing that, it's very dangerous."

The Environmental Emergency and Food Control departments said they would team up to introduce a new campaign targeted at labour camps, and raise awareness on safe food.

"This campaign will focus on the general health of labourers, so we intend to show them images of bad food and warn against dealing with suspicious individuals selling food on the street," said Mr Selaiteen.

"They don't know how the food was prepared or whether the person holds a valid health card."

Such campaigns were an "absolute necessity" said Rex Prakash, the co-founder of Adopt a Labourer, a non-profit organisation that works in the camps to carry out health awareness programmes and teach language and computer skills to workers. "Most of the labourers are uneducated and they often don't look at expiry dates or quality," said Mr Prakash. "These language and personal development skills will lead to better awareness.

"What they care about is if they can afford it. They work incredibly hard but lack certain awareness on safety and nutritional value."

He said he had seen cases of labourers not going for regular health check-ups, therefore being unaware of their existing medical conditions.

"If one knew he had diabetes or cholesterol, for example, and took notice of food labels, he would avoid potentially harmful ingredients," he said.

Mr Krishna said the campaign would teach labourers about the importance of buying only from legal suppliers and retailers.

If a supplier is unregistered and unauthorised, no control is in place from a regulatory body.

He said the responsibility for food safety lay as much with consumers as it did with the government.

"This [hawking] therefore, is an illegal process which could impact food safety," he said.

"The consumer may not know its origin, how it's handled and if it meets safety requirements."

melshoush@thenational.ae