As nations across the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia (MEASA) region work to implement food safety standards through their respective food supply chains, the UAE is well placed to take the lead in improving and aligning food safety standards across the region.
With food safety declared a top government priority in the UAE, the Federal National Council earlier this year passed a tough new federal law on food safety, to be enforced in all UAE territories. The 21-article bill regulates food production both inside the country and from imports and aims to tighten control on the food supply chain by using international best practices. At the same time, according to Alpen Capital Report 2015, the UAE government is working on the launch of a uniform system, Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, designed to improve and standardise food recall processes across the country – a system similar to that implemented in the European Union.
Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice-president, exhibitions and events division, DWTC, says: “There is no doubt that food safety is at the top of the agenda across the region – from the highest government levels through to agriculture, food production, processing and packaging, and down to the end consumer through hospitality and retail. International standards are not only recognised, they are becoming essential benchmarks.”
Underlining the global emphasis on food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month finalised the first two of seven major rules under the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This the first step in putting greater emphasis on the prevention of foodborne illness, holding imported food to the same food safety standard as domestically produced food, and developing a nationally integrated food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities.
Another signal that food safety is of global concern is the revision of the ISO 22000 currently underway, addressing the food safety management system, with the draft version available from mid-2016 and the final version expected to be ready in early 2017, clarifying and simplifying standards.
Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions and on-site service to promote safer food and to maintain clean environments, in more than 170 countries around the world. Josephine Lim, food safety specialist, Institutional Middle East and Africa, ECOLAB, says: “Though food safety in the GCC is not without incident, it is minimal compared to other parts of the world. The tenacity in which the food safety regulatory authorities here in this part of the world enforce the law is outstanding.
“The concern for human health is their priority. It works well because the focus is on guidance, implementation, monitoring and prevention, rather than mere penalty and reaction. What’s more, the GCC extends food safety as far as our own homes.
“Food safety leaders in the GCC understand that despite strict measures and fully implemented food safety regulations, the need to take food safety to the next level is crucial.
“GCC countries have formed the GCC Ministerial Committee for Food Safety with the purpose of ensuring the establishment of unified food safety standards throughout the region. Furthermore, the region intends to monitor and control the import and export of food through a Rapid Alert System for food,” adds Josephine.
The hygiene and quality manager of Royal Catering in Abu Dhabi, Ghida Walid Sarieddine, says: “Food safety systems in the UAE are increasingly becoming more standardised, according to international best practices and the codes of practice issued by ADFCA (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). Having the government set detailed rules and regulations on how to keep hygiene up to a high standard is a sure-fire way to monitor and control the standard of catering and F&B companies in the UAE.”
Ghida adds: “I believe that Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have a good awareness about food safety and that Abu Dhabi has followed international best practice and CODEX (international) guidance while coming up with the codes of practice. Which means that the UAE is compared on a global scale when it comes to food safety and they have followed international laws in order to come up with their rules and regulations. Moreover, the team that worked in ADFCA to develop those codes of practice where professors who had worked in governmental organisations and are experts in the food safety field.”
However, hazard analysis is something that is missed or not well understood among food industries and that is the case globally. So the CODEX committee is trying to develop further the section on validation and they have mentioned that more training should be conducted on hazard analysis.
As for validation, it is the step that ensures that the processes that are followed as a caterer lead to the safe production of food. Validation helps ensure that the set critical limits and control measures are properly set in place in order to ensure safe food is provided.
Yet, the level of understanding of the process must be increased within the food businesses, and ADFCA is playing a role in this. Ghida says: “It is essential for training companies to ensure that their trainers are competent and that they understand in full about hazard analysis and validation. Moreover, a very important sector that needs to understand the importance of hazard analysis and validation are the auditors of the certification companies.
“The auditors from those companies come to audit and certify food industries and so they need to fully understand the meaning of both processes in order to give constructive and valuable feedback for food industries on food safety.”
She adds: “As yet there is no industry standard or template by which a food businesses can validate the effectiveness of it control measures, but there are some guidelines found in research studies conducted in the UK, Australia etc. and there is information provided in ADFCA’s new codes of practice.
“However, once the food safety experts understand the meaning of validation, thereafter it would be easy for them to come up with a simple template that serves the purpose. I.e. for cooking validation, there should be a field where the process of cooking is defined (roasting chicken), the equipment used is defined (rational oven), the time and temperature are defined (150 degrees Centigrade for 25mins), and after removing the chicken from the oven the temperature is checked with a calibrated probe thermometer (to reach 70C for 2mins as defined by ADFCA) as a form of validation that cooking the chicken by following the process will result in a thoroughly cooked chicken, safe for consumption.”
ADFCA has been working for three years to develop the codes of practice and the Salamat Zadna project (simple HACCP system for small restaurants that carries a lot of guidance and support from ADFCA and its inspectors).
Ghida says: “Although this was led by Abu Dhabi government, ADFCA, it was then shared with Dubai and I believe that the governments within the emirates will be working closely together in the coming years towards the same goal of improving food safety.”
The Food Code
Dubai is also driving a new initiative, known as the Food Code. Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general Dubai Municipality, writes: “Dubai’s vision is to establish a world-class food safety system that helps provide safe food to the residents and the several millions that visit the emirate each year. We envision a system that ensures the highest standards of food safety – from the port to the plate.
“We would like the system to be so comprehensive and appealing that others are encouraged to use it as a model. Our vision will become a reality only when the government, food industry, service providers, educational and research organisations and the consumers collectively commit to work together and apply sound principles of food safety based on science and research.”
Dubai Municipality began the process by promoting a positive food safety culture among food establishments in the emirate, by urging the management to be responsible and accountable through its proprietary Person In Charge (PIC) programme introduced in 2010.
The Food Code will build on the foundations laid by the PIC and other regulatory programmes, arming operators with the necessary knowledge about the systems and processes needed to ensure an effective food safety culture.
The DG adds: “An integrated approach is necessary to ensure food safety from the place of primary production up to the point of consumption. The Food Control Department of Dubai Municipality will ensure that regulatory programs are science- and risk-based as far as possible.”
The Food Code is designed to assist the Person In-Charge (PICs) at food establishments to understand their obligations and to carry out operations as per the requirement, while helping the law-enforcement officers understand the ways and means to meet the standards and objectives mentioned in the GCC, Federal and Local regulations. The Code also helps the Food Control Department determine compliance with these standards and enhances consistency in the interpretation and enforcement of regulations.
The key references for the code are similar codes issued in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Hong Kong.
The Hussain writes: “The Code will be revised from time to time, and the revisions will be issued as supplements. The intention is to ensure that food safety standards move with the times and aim to encompass technologies and challenges that emerge along the way.”
Bobby Krishna Thulasi, specialist – food studies and planning, Food Control Department, Dubai Municipality, adds: “There is a need to move away from ‘control and command’ to ‘self-regulation’. We want food establishments to take ownership of the food safety management system and maintain it without us chasing.”
According to Bobby, the key violations are disinfection issues related to food contact surfaces, produce safety, pest management, and handwashing and temperature control. He adds: “Managers and owners of businesses have to promote a good culture of food safety. They have to invest time and money to train and monitor their staff. They should also provide sufficient facilities and ensure that food safety management systems are effectively implemented.
What the Dubai Municipality is proposing an “effective foodborne disease surveillance” investigation system, which will be implemented within the next 12 months, according to Bobby.
This system will become an integral tool in tracing the source of contamination and disease and will help in preventing outbreaks. As part of the measures, from January 2016, kitchens must be designed and laid out in accordance with new guidelines, including adequate hand washing and the adequate separation of raw and cooked food.
A card system will be used to identify issues ranging from critical (red) to caution (yellow) and acceptable (green). Those establishments with no violations will receive a “name and fame” recognition and for all suppliers it will be mandatory to display green cards and clients will have a right to ask the reason behind a supplier having a yellow or red card. “The idea behind the name and fame programme is to encourage the establishments to comply with our requirements. Consumers and food businesses can make safer choices when cards are visible. We hope to enhance compliance through that,” says Bobby.
Commenting on this initiative, Ghida says: “The three card system is a motivational way of trying to improve the food safety throughout the food industries and caterings. However, such a system should be set very well from the beginning as it would only be successful if all inspectors are given a clear set of instructions and guidelines in order to fairly give the card that the companies deserve.
“The inspectors need to be well trained on this system as it is not easy to have a standardised way of inspecting and grading when it comes to different inspectors as each one might have different judgement of food safety situations”
Ghida warns that there may not be enough inspectors to audit businesses, with the influx of new venues and the need for continuous follow ups. She adds: “Moreover, it would correlate negatively on Dubai municipality if there was an outbreak or big issue faced in a restaurant that was given a green
Nevertheless, Bobby is confident. He says: “In the teaching of new skills, and creating a greater understanding of the relevant science and technologies we can do both internal and external training, working with reputed international agencies such as USFDA, CDC, FSA, etc.”