The deaths of two expatriate children living in Dubai due to suspected food poisoning last month sparked one central question among residents: are food health and safety standards here really up to scratch?
The case in question focused on a restaurant in Al Qusais, where the victims’ parents ordered Chinese take away for the family. By the following morning the two children were dead and their mother was in critical condition in NMC Hospital. While the incident could not be conclusively determined as caused by food poisoning, the family was treated for that condition by medical staff.
There are two sides to Dubai’s eating out scene: restaurants in hotels and a mass of smaller, independent spots – shawarma stands, curry houses and Chinese restaurants. We wanted to know how food standards are monitored within both spheres, and how this compares with in the rest of the world.
‘As a distributor I sometimes get frustrated with how strict and stringent the Municipality is,’ says Max Ritter, a Swiss expat who has been distributing meat to five-star hotels around Dubai for several years. ‘But, as a consumer, I never have, and never will have, any worries eating anywhere in the UAE.’ Ritter reminds us that the recent case is a very isolated incident: ‘It was just an unfortunate series of events, I would say.’
Also a hotelier back in Switzerland, we ask Ritter how procedure differs between the two countries. ‘In Switzerland the onus rests with the proprietor. It’s in his interest not to give his customers food poisoning. There is more outside influence in the UAE; more checking, heavier control from Dubai Municipality. I understand why, because here there are many different cultures and chefs operating who are perhaps not so educated [in food standards].’
Khalid Mohammed Sharif, director of food control at Dubai Municipality, is insistent that the recent case hasn’t changed any-thing with the way food standards are enforced. ‘We do not say that, because of this case, we’re going to tighten our system – the tightness is there, the procedure is there, everything is there.’ Sharif explains that information on all food premises in the UAE is stored in computer records. ‘Our inspectors make plenty of visits: routine visits, campaign visits and by-order visits, and these are all worked out by the computer system. Then we have food standard experts and hygienists who make up the teams of inspectors.
‘We’re talking about 10,000 food premises here,’ Sharif continues. ‘And our tests do not alter whether we’re looking at large or small establishments. They just depend on whether each place is following a hygienic standard or not. That’s what the Dubai system is focusing on. There is procedure to avoid any contamination. You have to know that every stage of the flow chart, from farm to fork, is of a certain standard.’ He is also quick to dismiss any notion that we should be more careful eating out during the hotter summer months, as some doctors suggested around the time of the two young children died.
Despite the Muncipality’s insistence on their meticulous checking process we asked Ritter what potential food danger signs we should look out for as consumers. ‘Temperature is vital when it comes to meat safety. There is a danger zone of temperature. All food kept between 5C and 65C is stored improperly. So if you go to a buffet and the food is kept above 65C then no problem, below 5C, no problem. Anything between that you should steer clear of.’
And at home? ‘I read recently that around 95 per cent of food poisoning cases in the UAE are domestic. Leave food out on the stove to cook again the next day and even if you cook it throughly and kill the bacteria, the poison that the bacteria produces will still be there. It’s all a matter of constant dedication to the cause.’
Want to know more?
To learn more about food safety standards here contact the Dubai Municipality: email@example.com