Contract catering is still an oligopoly in the UAE, with three main companies dominating the sector - Compass, Abela & Co and Intercat. Each one services many different sectors and each has a considerable market share. However, with competition hotting up and demand for catering increasing, contract catering sets to be a lucrative business in the Middle East.
But what should FMs look out for when tasked with finding a catering company to suit their needs and requirements?
People eating the food may not understand the amount of preparation involved.
The following pages gives facilities management professionals as insight into the catering world, including one of technologically driven best practice from the new Emirates Flight Catering facility.
An ongoing argument within catering seems to be whether or not it's important for a company to be certified by Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
Abela & Co was the first catering company to achieve HACCP certification, however, Emirates Flight Catering follows the principles but is not certified.
FMs should look out for a company that adheres to some kind of international standard, but HACCP is not necessarily it. Both Abela & Co and Emirates Flight Catering use The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland for their food safety and hygiene training.
All companies interviewed advised that FMs should arrange a site visit to inspect the catering company and its operations before starting the tender process. Questions to think about include: Are you made to wash your hands and wear protective clothing before entering the kitchen? How is the food brought into the company? Are suppliers checked? What training is given to employees? How is temperature monitored?
"It depends what industry you're in and what standard you want to apply. If you're going to have a tender for a catering contract, you have to first of all decide what your specifications are going to be, what do you want, what should the contract achieve?" says Grant Douglas, hygiene & safety, Emirates Flight Catering.
There are arguments for and against protective clothing.
For example, some companies prefer to use facemasks to stop people from breathing on the food and others think it can create potential problems.
"There are two school of thoughts there. Is it really necessary? It's a sensitive area but if people wear a facemask then all the moisture and bacteria is held around the mouth area and if they feel any discomfort and touch their mouth, it may exacerbate the problem rather than assisting in it. In terms of food safety, I don't think it's necessary," claims Douglas.
Abela & Co
Abela & Co was the first catering company in the UAE to be certified with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
At 9:00 in the morning, the organised chaos has already started and the rush is on to deliver meals all over Dubai.
The automated system cuts down of labour costs and decreases human error.
But careful planning, staff that know and understand their job and a happy working atmosphere ensures the food is delivered on time.
"In general, the people who are eating the food may not understand how much effort goes into preparing and cooking the food," says Hassan Amad, operations manager, Abela & Co.
The culinary and catering centre prepares and cooks on a mass production basis. "When you cook such a big volume of food, food safety and hygiene is at the top of the agenda. The larger the volume, the larger the danger and the more difficult it is to bring out the taste. It's a big challenge," claims Amad.
In order to reach its destination, food has to start leaving the centre at 10:00am and beat Dubai's unpredictable traffic.
Abela & Co adheres to HACCP and has strict quality control procedures. "This starts from the supplier, it has to. We send a committee composed of hygiene, purchasing, accounts and culinary team who check out the supplier and then compile a report to see if they are suitable," he says.
The second stage of monitoring comes at the centre's receiving area. "Then we go to the checking of the freezers - making sure the temperatures are ok, the storage is ok, the handling of the food is ok, cooking procedures, packaging and setting up the counter," he adds.
HACCP and quality audits take place on a regular basis. The quality audit looks at things like the presentation of the food, the taste of the food, the presentation of serving staff and the knowledge of the food they are serving.
"We have lots of spot checks by DM and every month they come and they take some food samples for lab testing. We also do this and up until now, there have been no problems," states Amad.
Staff training is continuous. First they go orientation, then each employee takes part in the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland training and if passed, employees receive an international recognised certificate in hygiene and food safety. This teaches them about bacteria, the degree it multiplies, what the optimum food temperature is, how it should be covered, contamination etc' says Amad.
On top of external and internal training, each employee is assigned a mentor, someone who is already doing the job but has experience. The mentor looks after the new recruit for four months and during this time they are assessed and given on the job training to ensure they are going in the right direction.
Cleanliness is another area Amad is passionate about. "Cleanliness starts with the people. If you are clean, your kitchen will be clean. We give them (the employees) clean accommodation, uniforms, we train them in cleaning and have a strong team dedicated to it. There are rules and regulations set out by Dubai Municipality on which chemicals to use."
From duct cleaning to flushing of the drains inside, water tank cleaning to corrective maintenance, Amad understands the need for facilities management. "For example, we have a contract for the chillers and freezers, the air conditioning, electrical and plumbing problems. When it comes to the cleaning of the kitchens, facilities management is heavily involved," he concludes.
Dealing with dinner
Health and safety in any catering establishment is paramount, particularly in a health care environment where consumers are naturally more vulnerable.
Medirest has been working in partnership with Sheikh Khalifa Medial City since its inception in 2000.
It works hard to ensure that the very best international standards are maintained and that the latest technology and best practices from around the world are applied.
For example, it has recently implemented the use of state-of-the-art thermo carts from Italy. These carts ensure hot and cold food temperatures are maintained throughout the service phase of the process.
Before food is served to the patients, there is a complex and detailed process in place to control food safety and quality from the moment food items leave the suppliers facility, to the moment food is placed on the plate and served to the patient.
Medirest subscribes to HACCP, which stands for Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points. The complete process from supplier to plate is broken down into critical stages. For each stage, a detailed hazard analysis is undertaken and the analysis then provides specific checks and controls which need to be put in place and monitored at all times to mitigate the hazards.
In addition to HACCP, the company is also working with the hospital to ensure that their services exceed the standards laid down by Joint Commission International, an American Healthcare standards association. Accreditation of this process is currently on-going with JCIA.
"In a demanding and challenging catering facility such as a hospital, there are many different and specific catering needs from patients, staff and visitors. The food is supervised by the hospital dieticians. We meet with the dieticians at meal times throughout the day for monitoring. The therapy menus are decided by the dieticians and the regular menus by the chef and management. A group of people change the menu's every six months," says Joseph Pinto, zone manager.
Staff receive detailed training in Medirest. "We give them the basic food hygiene training and then they go onto the intermediate course that looks at things like customer care, needle stick injury and isolation training. We also do a lot of on-the-job training such as hand washing and lifting techniques. The chef also does a lot of training on food preparation," he explains.
New comers go through a detailed medical examination to ensure they are safe to work in a hospital catering environment. Once cleared, they will take part in orientation. "We have an orientation check list and make sure employees understand the requirements and goals, where they stand in the organisation and who they report to. We also explain the rules and regulations of the kitchen - what they can and cannot do."
There is a training matrix that is run company wide, but Pinto also likes to get employee feedback to see where they can improve. One way of doing this is through something he calls, ‘tool box'. "Every 15 days we will tackle a subject related to the tools and equipment. For example, one of the supervisors noticed a cook using a knife incorrectly so we advised on the right way to use it and why it's important to use it that way. It's on-going training," he stresses.
Each month the team takes part in some refresher training. In July, Pinto and his team looked at slips, trips and falls in the kitchen. Other months have seen housekeeping and employee well being as the focus.
Cleaning the kitchen is an on-going task, with specific products like Deepclean being used to remove any traces of bacteria.
Different members of staff will wear different uniforms, depending on their role and employees preparing, cooking and handling the food wear facemasks to stop them breathing on it.
Emirates Flight Catering
Showcasing best practice
Less than a month old and the brand new Emirates Flight Catering facility is creating a stir in the world of catering.
From advanced automation to clearly defined food safety procedures, the state-of-the-art facility is one that exudes international best practice.
The new facility has a maximum catering capacity of 115,000 meals a day and currently supplies around 60,000.
The building management system installed by Prause & Partner, monitors and controls all electro mechanical and automated systems and equipment.
"The automation reduces the labour requirement. Instead of having a lot of manual processes, we have a lot of equipment being moved around the facility by the monorail systems and our bin transport system - this cuts down in labour and makes it more reliable as we are eliminating human error," says Grant Douglas, hygiene & safety, Emirates Flight Catering.
The system allows the user to monitor the operations in real time. "If the air temperature in any cold room or cabinet chiller is not at its optimum, an alarm will be triggered. The alarm can be raised via computer, fax, phone call or text. This is an essential part of the food safety management system to ensure the end product is safe," he adds.
It also monitors things like chiller motor performance and door openings.
An automated system developed by ENVAC controls the waste management, with waste being transported via vacuum lines to waste skips.
Once the skips are full, Trashco remove them and replace them with empty ones. The vacuum lines are sealed, preventing odours from leaking.
The cost of running a facility of this size would increase dramatically without an automation process. But that's not to say that smaller facilities would not benefit from some technological assistance.
"There's individual components of our facility that can be taken out and applied to smaller operations. For example, the on line cooling curtains that are above the tables can be applied to any kitchen where you have cold preparation work going on," states Douglas.
The company also takes an active interest in recycling by recycling paper, cardboard boxes, packaging material and cooking oil.
As part of the food safety process, NPC (National Pest Control) look after the facilities pest control.
The electric fly killers enable NPC to perform identification of the flying insects and it's likely source.
"For example, if it was a fruit fly it would probably have come from older vegetables or fruit so we would take the issue up with our supplier," says Douglas.
With planned preventative maintenance (PPM) in place, the blue UV bulb that attracts the flying insects is checked every month. NPC monitor the UV output of each bulb with a UV meter, if any fall below the minimum 30% UV output, they are replaced.
Douglas says the first port of call in terms of regulation is Dubai Municipality Food Control Department.
"They have a set of food safety and food hygiene regulations that are mandatory and we must comply with them. We also fall under the jurisdiction of the World Food Safety Guidelines. It covers all the key issues an airline caterer has got to address in terms of food safety as part of its day-to-day operation."
All new staff must attend the elementary hygiene course which is certificated by REHIS (Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland). In addition, refresher hygiene training is on-going throughout the year.
There are different levels of training depending on the job role and sometimes it maybe necessary to travel overseas for specific hygiene training if it is not available locally.
To help staff identify which day the food has been prepared, cooked and ready to be supplied, coloured stickers are used. For example, yellow indicates Thursday.
"All food products within the facility have to be day or date labelled so that we can manage stock control of the products. If it doesn't have an indication of it's day or date code then you cannot have a stock control system," explains Douglas.
The company also operates a tight temperature controlled environment for the food. It starts right at the beginning when trucks open their back doors to the facility to start offloading the food. Air pillows seal the gap between the truck doors and the facility doors. "The truck reverses and the air pillows close around it to help seal of the hot air coming in."
Aside from using the standard digital thermometers, Douglas explains there are other ways to help control food temperatures. "We have air cooling socks, a temperature controlled device, which are situated above preparation tables. They allow cool air to flow down over cold products to help maintain the cold chain.
"Before any company can supply food products they must have been audited, via our supplier approval programme. The auditing process ensures all potential suppliers meet standards before we even start the tendering process."
The facility is equipped with an advanced fire fighting system, as required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and due to the sector being catered for, security is high with 220 CCTV cameras installed.
Busy brunch - Spectrum on one
Although brunch is an event that FMs are more likely to attend and enjoy, rather than cater for, there may be occasions where they have to organise a large-scale event.
From December 2007, it will be a legal requirement for all food suppliers to be approved by the Dubai Municipality.
Facilities managers should make sure their chosen catering company is adhering to this.
In addition, it is wise to make sure the catering company is following Dubai Municipality regulations and training. They might also be following some international standards and guidelines.
Whether you have a catering division within your FM company or are going to outsource to a contract catering company, FMs need to be make sure the event goes smoothly and the food served matches the quality requested by the client.
At the Fairmont's Spectrum on One restaurant, careful planning enables staff and chefs to deliver its famous Friday brunch, week in, week out.
"The raw materials are chopped and prepped on Thursdays and we cook the food on Fridays," says Kamal Uduwarage, senior executive sous chef.
Staff arrive on site between 7.30am and 8.30am to prepare for the fresh food delivery supplies that start at 8.30am.
The hygiene officer, Shelendra Singh, will regularly go round and check food temperatures from receiving the food to the final delivery in the buffet.
The Fairmont Hotel is HACCP certified but is considering applying for ISO 22000 - Food Safety Management Systems - next year, an international standard that specifies the requirements for a food safety management system that involves:
• Interactive communication;
• System management;
• Prerequisite programmes;
• HACCP principles.
It is also working to the Codex Alimentarius Commission which develops food standards, guidelines and things like codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Standards Programme.
Currently, staff are given training on the hotel standards, HACCP and Dubai Municipality food hygiene guidelines. During orientation they will also cover things like fire safety and first aid.
On the day, trained section chefs are on hand during the brunch if a customer has special dietary requirements.
Uduwarage explains that one of the reasons the brunch is so successful is because the staff are looked after. "Fairmont is a great believer that if it looks after your staff, they will look after the guest.
"Give the staff freedom and empowering them, treat them properly - that's what will keep them motivated."
The catering for the staff is provided by the Compass Group. "If you think about the food that Compass provides, it's based on staff representation. We get a lot of Indian dishes because our staff are primarily Indian. "We are paying more to Compass to get a better quality. The staff are very demanding, it's difficult to cater for them."
Temperature control, cleaning and personal hygiene, all conditions of HACCP, are also what makes the brunch live up to its reputation.
"Temperature control is very important, if you don't control it then bacteria can multiply. It can also cause food poisoning," states Singh.
The Spectrum on One kitchen uses cleaning products from a company called Ecolab. "They come and give us training every month on how to use the products they supply us with," says Singh.
There are many elements to piece together in order for a catering contract to be successful for both parties. This feature just looks at the food safety and hygiene aspect.
When dealing with event catering, organisation and having staff who know what they are doing and when they are supposed to be doing it, is essential.For all the latest construction 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.
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