With nearly 10,000 restaurants in Dubai alone, the number is expected to increase dramatically as the Emirate targets 20 million tourists annually by 2020, and Dubai Municipality’s Food Control Department is making huge progress in ensuring all food business operators (FBOs) not only are aware of standards, but achieve and maintain them.
All businesses that routinely handle food, whether in a supply chain or directly supplied to members of the public, understand that the reputation of their business can be damaged by incidences of food poisoning that can often result from poor hygiene or cross-contamination. If the FBO believes ‘It won’t happen to me’, lets remind us of one of the world’s worst recorded outbreaks of E. coli food poisoning in Scotland in 1996 - the centre of which was a renowned family butcher’s shop. Twenty-one people died after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. The report said that inadequate training of staff at the butchers shop implicated in the outbreak, identifying five key failures:
1. Failure to use temperature probes for cooking raw meat.
2. Failure to draw up cleaning schedules to reduce the risk of contamination.
3. Failure to separate processes relating to raw meat and cooked meat.
4. Failure to provide separate knives and equipment for each of the processes.
5. Failure to provide clear management structures and adequate supervision to enforce safety measures.
E. coli 0157 causes diarrhoea - about 50 per cent of people also have blood in their stools; stomach cramps; fever. A very small number of patients may develop ‘haemolytic uremic syndrome’ (HUS), which is associated with kidney failure, anaemia and bleeding. Complications are more common in children under ﬁve years of age and the elderly.
All FBOs no matter their size and sophistication can insure themselves against a potential disaster such as this with the adoption of procedures in accordance with HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and the use of proven disinfectants. According to Dubai Municipality’s risk categorisation, both the five-star hotel and ‘poorer’ quality independent restaurant are both classified as potentially HIGH RISK. But, it is clear that the management, systems, policies and procedures will be dramatically different, even though the law applies equally to both.
The challenge for the chemical supplier is to be able to access and supply both ends of the ‘quality’ spectrum and provide a menu of solutions that are appropriate to both types of FBO. At Arpal Gulf, where we supply some of the most prestigious names in the market, we have also been focussing on the diverse local independent restaurant market. We have realised that we have to think innovatively as to how to communicate the essential disinfection messages to this market in a clear, uncomplicated way and to ensure that access to the right chemical products and information is easily available, along with face to face advice, if required. We believe this segment of Dubai’s restaurant market needs help, and working with the authorities to develop and provide clear messages to the FBO to protect themselves and their customers is the key.
It is our belief, therefore, that the communication of multi-lingual messages through social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, we can help the independent FBO gain the essential knowledge they require to attain and maintain the standards that are required and ensure the PIC has enough reference material on disinfection to access 24/7.
Due to the array of different ethnic cuisines served and the diverse cultural tastes and expectations, Dubai Municipality’s Food Inspection Section Unit certainly has their work cut out, but with over 60 inspectors now in place and the implementation of the a Person-in-Charge (PIC) scheme, there is a solid foundation in place. The PIC is accountable to their employer and the government for making sure that employees on their shift are following established policies and procedures for food safety.
Over the last 12 months, Arpal Gulf has provided a single disinfection pack for fruit & veg and surfaces to over 500 independent eating outlets. With a minimal financial outlay for the FBO, they receive an ‘insurance policy’ so that when the Food Inspection Officer calls, they can confidently show they have a procedure in place, know what to do and more importantly who to call if they require more help. The initiative started out as an investigative trial in mid-2015, but the results have been spectacular.
Arpal Gulf’s Business Development Manager, Alwyn Lewis, who has championed the project says, “Initially when I proposed the idea, everybody in the company thought I was mad. We deal primarily with large multi-site corporations and this end of the sector was not our core business. But, it has become a bit of a passion for me, because these restaurants are exposed and lack knowledge of the standards being imposed on them and as a result their businesses are under threat if they don’t comply – and it only costs them a few fils per day.”
The message is quite clear: As Dubai nears 2020 and prepares to welcome tens of millions of new visitors, not all of them will be staying and eating in five-star accommodations, which we know only accounts for 5 per cent of the market today. Food poisoning is democratic, and financial and reputational damage is proportionally the same for both the higher end and lower end of the restaurant market. Alwyn concludes by saying, “It’s really hard work getting round these premises, explaining what they need to do and the consequences of not complying with the regulations. Many of the businesses have nothing in place, but after I explain we are there to help, or after an Inspection Officer calls and commends them on the system in place, I have a friend for life!”
Food production involves workers moving at a frenetic pace focused on preparing and serving the customer, which as a result can easily lead to them taking shortcuts. But, the FBO must understand that failing to disinfect a surface effectively can affect their customer’s health and indeed the reputation and financial security of the FBO itself. Reputable chemical suppliers like Arpal Gulf should be able to provide multilingual training, Kitchen Hygiene Schedules and point if use signage to help the kitchen staff to easily understand and follow the standards. The PIC along with the cleaning team can defuse the hazards and significantly reduce the risk.
As Dubai Municipality continues to roll out its food safety programme to smaller FBOs, the message is clear: avoid taking shortcuts in cleaning and disinfection, follow company food safety guidelines and the Dubai Municipality Food Safety Code and ask for help from the chemicals supplier.
In our final post we look into how the food business operator should choose the right disinfectants which are fit for purpose.