We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Mon 16 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Culinary control

Dubai Municipality’s Food Control Department director, Khalid Mohammed Sharif Al-Awadhi, talks exclusively to Caterer Middle East about the department’s plans for a food-safe future — not just for Dubai, but for the entire Middle East.

Culinary control
Culinary control

Dubai Municipality’s Food Control Department director, Khalid Mohammed Sharif Al-Awadhi, talks exclusively to Caterer Middle East about the department’s plans for a food-safe future — not just for Dubai, but for the entire Middle East.

What is the current status of food safety standards in Dubai?

Our key objective here is to keep Dubai safe in terms of food; so we work with all concerned departments in the Municipality to improve food hygiene standards across the board.

The reason this issue is so vital for Dubai is because tourism is a key focus here: it is Dubai’s aim to keep tourism in top condition, and of course one of the things people like when they visit is to enjoy the wide range of food we can offer here.

It’s vital to protect this excellent reputation that we have built; if there is any reason for people to be unhappy with the standard of food, they will not enjoy eating here. That is why we work together to maintain Dubai’s high standards.

We have a strategic plan which started in 2008 and runs until 2010, so right now we are working on developing a new plan to run from 2010 to 2014. In that, we have included a performance indicator for Dubai, looking specifically at reducing contamination and food-borne diseases. This is our central aim.

As your current strategic plan draws to a close, how successful do you feel it has been?

It’s gone on track; but one of the key problems we still face here in Dubai is that our food is predominantly imported from other regions.

If you look at Europe or America, 80% of their food is manufactured there; here, it’s more like 80% imported.

So that means we have a lot of different foodstuffs coming in, and we have to ensure they are all of high quality; this is a big challenge for us, because there are so many different sources.

We have put a performance indicator to our strategic plan, according to international standards, to maintain it at less than 5% contamination in food entering Dubai. This year, we are at 6.5%, which we want to improve upon.

That’s why the new strategic plan is more focused and more in-depth with regards to actual numbers — statistical progress on contamination, as well as incidences of food poisoning and pathogenic bacteria, and looking at how we can control those things.

Is this emphasis a response to the recent spate of food poisonings reported in the UAE?

No, we were planning to take this stance anyway, but these incidences of food poisoning underlined to us how important it was to focus on this side of things right away.

What we found in these cases was that it was not to do with contaminated food as such, but about how the food was dealt with by food handlers.

So that’s our other challenge: it’s not just the quality of the food, it’s the human element that’s an issue. Because you can have the best quality ingredients in the world, but if just one person stores it incorrectly, it could make the consumer ill.

Consequently, another area that we need to really focus on is improving knowledge among food handlers. How exactly are you going about informing and educating handlers?

Firstly, we have our awareness programme, which tries to convey safety from the most basic level — because not all food handlers are hugely qualified and we don’t want to over-complicate things for them, so we start at the beginning.

One learning aid we have is our ‘Mr Safe’ character, which of course is an Arabic name, but also holds its English meaning.

We want to promote this character as a representative for food safety and awareness. He will offer easy-to-remember advice on how to store food or prepare it, avoid cross-contamination and so on.

What we have also done is to approve the training programmes at 15 companies in Dubai; then we ask all restaurants, cafes and so on to get approved in food hygiene by one of these companies. This initiative started in 2008, and now we have 40,000 people certified.

We have also ensured that these companies can offer such training in different languages; so it can be done in Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu.

In addition to these measures, we are also using online methods: we have a Facebook group, which helps to raise awareness among consumers and customers as well, and is a great tool for promoting Mr Safe.

How do food safety standards in Dubai compare to other areas of the Middle East?

It’s definitely one of the most advanced places — this is because we are one of the main tourism and business hubs for the area, and one of the biggest importers and exporters of food in the region.

We have the biggest logistics market here as well; we have the biggest port, in Jebel Ali, and a major airport — it’s a real hub for the region. Every year we have four million tons of food coming through Dubai and going on to neighbouring countries. In fact, 70% of the UAE’s food comes through Dubai.

What are the Dubai Municipality Food Control Department’s goals for the future?

It is our aim to harmonise food safety right across the GCC, with one formalised set of procedures and regulations.

If we can do that, and all the systems in the GCC are one, it will run far more smoothly.

We are working on that now; there are many measures we are already sharing.

We want to harmonise import and export systems and standardise outlet safety — and there is already a GCC committee working towards this goal.

By sharing experience and best practice, we’ll improve the industry for everyone.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.