Pillsbury Consulting: Advancing food safety in the UAE
Dated: 27-01-2011

The UAE is a tourist hub and job destination for many nationalities. However, despite the constant flow of people in and out of the country, health hazards that can arise from the spread of communicable diseases have been contained in the region. However, the risk of illness and death due to food poisoning remains high as the UAE’s population largely depends on road-side eateries, cafeterias, drive-ins, restaurants and ready-to-eat items from display counters in supermarkets and petrol stations for food.

The government has tightened regulations on all five-and-four hotels and food catering premises, making HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control certification mandatory for all establishments within this category since 2005. Hence, the risk in these premises has been curtailed due to HACCP-driven food safety management systems in place, over the past five years.

Developing competency that really works

However, the real risk lies in F&B outlets, retail food establishments, roadside joints, small eateries and cafeterias where the awareness level is low and no food safety mechanisms are in place.
“Not all people who work in the hospitality industry, i.e. stewarding staff and food handlers in small restaurants have a background in hospitality and catering. Hence, it is very difficult for food consultants to coach them on the basics of food safety and hygiene,” says Dr Ali Danesh, managing director of Pillsbury Consulting, a new consultancy in food safety management systems, the key objective of which is to provide practical training and conduct hygiene audits.Dr Ali is an approved food safety auditor and trainer for Dubai, Sharjah & Ajman Municipality. Dr Ali has the honour of belonging to the noble field of medicine with an M.B.B.S degree from Dow Medical College.

With reference to the general lack of scientific knowledge with food handlers in the hospitality industry today, Dr Ali advocates the “unconscious competency” approach to food safety, wherein hand washing for instance is so much ingrained in the psyche of the person that it becomes an unconscious act, rather than “conscious competence” where enforcement is necessary and the person has to be repeatedly told to wash his hands.

“Unconscious competence” can be achieved through the right kind of training module for each person, keeping his/her job in mind. Dr Ali has his training module based on the 4Cs, i.e. 4 key controls in food safety that include Cross Contamination; Cleaning; Chilling; Cooking. “Food handlers and stewarding staff should be fully aware of these in  order to prevent, reduce or eliminate any hazard present in their daily operations,” says Dr Ali.

He believes in vigorous training schedules that focus on the job responsibility of the person. For instance, a person who is a steward needn’t know everything about cooking or chilling but he should be made aware in detail about Cleaning and Cross Contamination but a supervisor needs to know all 4Cs. A chef needs to be trained in all 4Cs while a driver bringing in food supplies needs to know what cross contamination is all about.

Who needs the SFBB approach?

The 4Cs concept stems from the ‘Safer food, better business’ (SFBB) concept created by the Food Standard Agency in the UK, which is compulsory for retail and small restaurants. It was developed to assist small food businesses in complying with the requirements for documented HACCP-based procedures.

Pillsbury training is therefore centered on the SFBB 4 Cs approach, designed to take account of the seven principles of HACCP, but in a way that overrides the comp
lexity of HACCP. This is especially useful for 3 and 4 star hotels, coffee shops, small restaurants and retail outlets where food safety management systems cannot be implemented with documentation in place, but you can control various hazards that will be there in the processes.”

There are so many areas in which one can use the organoleptic process, i.e. use the sensory perception of all 5 sensory organs, to inspect food to see if it is safe. For instance, from inspecting incoming food, to vegetable washing and sanitation, during thawing to see if proper defrosting is taking place or not, during cooking to see if food is being cooked properly or not, for e.g. whether re-heating of rice is taking place properly or not. However, it is very important to verify the cooking process by using a digital probe thermometer.

Pillsbury training includes simple safety points: a description of why each safety point is important; key steps that make the food safe; what to do if things go wrong; how to manage the hazards in the business. However, the key element remains the validation and verification of any control point that is measurable. The Pillsbury team performs a ‘gap analysis’ of the situation and advises the client as to the type of training that each person needs to go through.

Going by practical assessment and gap analysis, Dr Ali has noticed lapses such as improper dosage ad use of the chlorine tablets while sanitizing vegetables, no pre-cleaning of fruits and vegetables before sanitizing, etc., in kitchen operations. All these lapses are addressed in the training which is imparted to the staff.

An important part of attaining food safety is the infrastructural change that needs to be made to a kitchen. For instance, most restaurant kitchens have a single sink for vegetable washing and sanitizing whereas a double sink is required. Consultants play an important role in convincing owners of restaurants that any expenditure on infrastructure is bound to bring in better results for the business as they can now market the business as having attained ‘food safety’. “As a trainer we need to explain the benefits of food hygiene, we have to link performance efficiency with food safety,” explains Dr Ali.

Playing the detective game

Pillsbury also carries out an audit by the name of ‘Hygiene Detectives’ whereby the Pillsbury team takes the responsibility of checking the kitchen operations of clients to find out the source of the contamination and hazard. The team is equipped with ‘detective tools’ which allow them to gather scientific evidence (video recordings, photographs, laboratory reports), from the operation and hence calculate the risk. “This audit is to help you to have proper risk assessment in your kitchen as it gives a detailed documented report along with proper evidences. Indications of unacceptable levels of hygiene may include dirty clothes, cockroach infestation, unacceptable results of swab tests of hands, unacceptable results of samples from foods, which make the owner, understand the standard of hygiene in his kitchen,” says Dr Ali.

Ever since the establishment of Pillsbury Consulting in November 2010, Dr Ali has been working hard to support businesses in the UAE to attain food safety. Pillsbury Consulting is now formally registered and is an approved training centre with Highfield  Awarding Body for Compliance (HABC). In addition, Pillsbury is an approved training centre for the UKbased Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). The company is also approved to provide all Levels of Food Hygiene and Dubai Municipality PIC Training Programs.

“We have developed an interactive website www. pillsburyconsulting.com so that anyone interested in food safety and our services can visit our website and communicate with us at any time. There is a ‘download section’ which is constantly updated which includes free downloads of food safety standards, good practice guidance notes and other
useful documents,” states Dr Ali.