Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sharjah's dangerous food

There's an alarming report in The National this morning about the safety of eating out in Sharjah.

It follows the death of little Marwa Faisal, the four year old who tragically died from food poisoning in the emirate a week ago. The rest of her family were seriously affected too, although no source of the problem has yet been announced.

Now Sharjah Municipality reports that of the 1,588 restaurants and cafeterias its inspectors checked last year only 223 met the minimum requirements.

Only 223 out of 1,588. That's astonishing.

Of the 1,365 not meeting minimum requirements, 891 were issued with warnings and 474 were closed temporarily until they improved.

Those really are frightening figures.

The municiplity reports that outlets were guilty of poor maintenance, serving food that had passed its use-by date, black mould on kitchen surfaces, flaking paint falling on to food and staff not observing correct food safety procedures.

At least as bad as those is the practice of turning off refrigerators at night to save power, a common cause of food poisoning, particularly in summer of course. The municipality said they're working to eradicate this practice too.

All of this is total and disgraceful disregard for the health of the public from an incredible 86 percent of the industry.

It goes right down the chain too. In Al Ain last month police and inspectors carried out spot checks on trucks. They found 143 carrying produce to markets and restaurants without proper permits. Over three days they caught 11 trucks that were unfit for the safe transport of food.

The food wasn't being transported at the correct, safe temperature and 437kg had been spoilt, damaged or was below standard for service and sale to the public. But if they hadn't been intercepted it would have been sold to the public I'm sure. And how many more trucks are there ferrying food around unrefrigerated?

The municipalities and the health authorities around the emirates say they're cracking down and various programmes are being put in place to get on top, and stay on top, of the practices.

There's regular talk about draconian jail sentences here for various law breaking activities. I'd like to see them for these practices, which to me are very serious crimes, threatening the health and even the lives of people.

The full story is in The National.


Mme Cyn said...

Shocking. They should be closed down AND fined.

Dave said...

It is interesting to note when you leave the region and venture to different locations how many road transport vehicles proudly display the "HACCP Compliant" stickers on the side.

This is the international standard of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points adopted and enforced in numerous countries to pro-actively prevent problems with food and pharmaceutical transport.

Rarely is this standard seen (or used) here in the UAE, and I would question whether any of the inspectors involved in the assessments of trucks have any working knowledge of it at all.

But well done for what the authorities are doing as a start. With summer definately upon us the potential for disaster is huge.

Seabee said...

Dave, now you come to mention it I've realised there's an absence of almost any of the 'hazard' plates seen on trucks in Europe, Oz etc.

Dave said...

Seabee, you are so right. Most countries have local legislation that is detailed and well-written to cover the transportation of Dangerous Goods by road.

Frequently this legislation is written in similar style format to the IATA DG codes that regulate transport by air cargo.

I am unsure if the UAE has such legislation - hence the abscence of Hazchem signage and charts etc...... I digress but you will also never see a truck being put "over the scales" here to check legal weight...

Bobby said...

I work as a food safety enforcement officer in Dubai and I want to assure you that we are working hard to improve the food safety standards in the Emirate. The news paper reports were defenitely scary, but provided little scientific evidence to prove that it was a case of food poisoning from restaurant.
I personally spoke to a few news reporters and none had a clue about what they were writing.

HACCP standards are mandatory for all food manufacturers and big hotels. We are also developing HACCP based systems for smaller outlets and such systems will be implemented over the next couple of years.
US that has one of the best food safety system in the world, but 76 million people become ill each year. It is a difficult task to ensure food safety in country where 90% of its foods are imported. lack of ecientific expertise when compared to the west, technological advancements etc are a big handicap for the region. One cannot compare a food control system that is still young to systems in countries like US, UK or Australia that have progressed over several decades. but, I can assure that we are one of the most progressive countries when it comes to enhancing food safety.

Please feel to contact me if you require any further information.