x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Why food inspectors closed meat counters

Counters at two of the capital's biggest supermarkets are closed down for offences that include relabelling and selling expired products.

Some meat at Lulu Hypermarket was found to be out of date and without labels.
Some meat at Lulu Hypermarket was found to be out of date and without labels.

ABU DHABI // Meat counters at two of the capital's biggest supermarkets were closed down for offences that included relabelling and selling out-of-date products, it was disclosed yesterday. For the first time, a report by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) provided details of the violations that temporarily closed meat counters at Lulu Hypermarket in Al Wahda Mall and Carrefour in Marina Mall.

The violations posed a risk to the health of consumers, with some constituting "trade fraud", the report said. Mohamed al Reyaysa, a spokesman for the ADFCA, said the report was a "clear message" that the authority took its responsibility seriously. "We are taking care of any kind of violations, either small or big," he said. "We have a red line that we don't want anybody to consume any food that is below our health and safety standards."

According to the report, inspectors found Carrefour selling meat past its sell-by date, and selling meat without knowing its origins. The inspectors also found workers defrosting chicken in water, a health hazard. Although the counter was considered a fresh meat establishment, staff were storing products in a deep freezer, the report said. Some of these violations meant the store was guilty of "trade fraud".

"There are different meats which are repackaged by removing the old package and placing it in a new package with a new production and expiry date, or mixing it with new meat," the report said. Carrefour could not be contacted for comment. At Lulu Hypermarket, meat past its sell-by date was on display, said the report, as was meat without any labelling, while dates on cans of meat had been altered.

The inspectors also found by-products from the deboning process - considered not fit for human consumption - in minced meat products for sale. The store was also warned about cleanliness after inspectors noted that rubbish bags were not in bins. As a result of the inspections, meat production and the display of minced meat at Carrefour was halted and the counter shut down for three days in June. The authority also destroyed 58kg of meat products.

In July, Lulu's meat section was shut down for three days. A spokesman for Lulu acknowledged there had been violations, but said they were limited and the company was working on improving its standards. "There have been a total of 43 visits to our store by ADFCA officials to date this year and only on three occasions have they found violations on our part," he said. "We have taken serious note of these issues and have done a thorough investigation of the whole procedure to rectify any hitches."

The spokesman said some of the Government's food safety requirements were difficult to understand. "In some instances we have found there is a lack of clarity with regard to some of the ADFCA guidelines, and we are meeting with them to clarify these issues," he said. The Healthy Food Restaurant in Musaffah and the Golden Sun Cafeteria in Mina Street were also listed as violators in the authority's report, which was a result of routine inspections, surprise visits and undercover shopping by officials.

The authority also follows up complaints from consumers who report violations. "We're not going to be everywhere all the time, so we call upon consumers to help," Mr al Reyaysa said. Establishments first receive a warning for violations, followed by official complaints that are settled in court and can involve fines. The third step sees the store or restaurant shut down for three to 10 days. Closings were imposed so the store could address violations or as a punitive measure, Mr al Reyaysa said.

The authority also releases the names of the offending establishments to the media. "They are back [open] but they don't have those violations now," Mr al Reyaysa said. "We have promised to have transparency with the public, so we have to mention their name even if they close for half an hour. "We have to mention their name to make sure they don't come back to this, and this is something we are serious about."

Repeat offenders might have their licences taken away, he said. The authority has seen a decline in the number of violators since operations began in 2005. "Our role was one of raising awareness in the beginning," Mr al Reyaysa said. "Then we came to the point of accountability." newsdesk@thenational.ae