In cooperation with the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) has issued a guidance document of prevent the spread of COVID-19 at food businesses sector and throughout handling food. The document aims at raising awareness of food businesses, food workers and consumers about ways to prevent the risk of exposure to COVID-19, and to strengthen existing food hygiene practices in the Emirate's food facilities, thus ensuring the application of the best food safety practices and delivering safe and healthy food to the public in all circumstances.
In this regard, Dr. Mouza Suhail Al Muhairi, Executive Director of ADAFSA's Policy and Regulation Sector, said: "We share food safety-related information and expertise with our partners in INFOSAN. In addition to anticipating challenges posed by the current environmental and health conditions to food safety, ADAFSA and INFOSAN are developing effective plans and programs, in cooperation with the competent authorities, to assess risks of such conditions and face their potential impacts on society."
Al Muhairi clarified that ADAFSA has issued this document to introduce food workers and consumers to good food hygiene practices and precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the food production and supply chain, and when handling and consuming food. She added the guidance document features answers of several questions on how to handle food in these exceptional circumstances, guidelines and scientific recommendations of WHO and FAO in this regard, and the global experiences and expertise on the safe handling of food and slaughtering live animals in abattoirs.
She indicated that ADAFSA is keen on playing its role in coordinating with the concerned authorities to include food and biosecurity requirements in their plans, preparing and implementing the necessary plans to respond to accidents, crises and emergencies of relevancy to its activities, educating different segments of society about agriculture and food safety.
Apart from its importance to food workers and consumers, the document is one of the important sources of knowledge for food safety authorities in the UAE and the region. It can be drawn upon in preparing effective programs to combat the impact of this pandemic on food safety sector, as well as enhancing the role of these authorities in developing this vital sector, Al Muhairi affirmed.
The document comprises 30 different topics covering measures to be taken by employees in all food businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These includes application of hygiene and sanitation measures by employees, the protocol when an employee contracts COVID-19, the needed measures to ensure the safety of workers and food handled, sound mechanisms for displaying and handling food, scientific and sound basis for sanitizing food-contact surfaces, preparation places, carts and food premises in general, the best sanitizers for this purpose, the virus incubation environments and time of survival in each one, and measures to ensure safe transport of food.
Furthermore, the document includes guidelines for food safety authorities, such as requirements for inspecting food and animals imported from countries experiencing a large numbers of COVID-19 cases, the sound protective equipment for inspectors, controls for reopening a food business after being temporarily closed, lab protocols for identifying the virus in food and on surfaces, and measures to ensure the food supply chain remains intact to prevent food shortages.
The potential of the virus transmission between humans and animals, veterinary quarantine measures for live animals imported from countries experiencing a large numbers of COVID-19 cases, and WHO recommendations to reduce risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to humans in live animal markets or animal product markets are among the topics highlighted in the document.
The document also provides consumers with extensive information on the proper handling of food, including ways to properly wash fruits and vegetables, the necessity of disinfecting food packaging materials, it is possible that consumers can get COVID-19 from food, the required time and temperature for cooking food, the most important precautions to be taken while shopping and receiving food orders.
ADAFSA has participated in a global webinar entitled 'COVID-19 and Food Safety', which was conducted by INFOSAN on April 14, 2020. In the presence of international experts from many countries, the webinar addressed challenges facing food safety authorities while combating this pandemic and the best ways to limit the spread of COVID-19.
On the other hand, ADAFSA urged the public to read the document on its website (www.adafsa.gov.ae), to be aware of the most important issues of relevancy to COVID-19 and food, to get adequate and reliable information, and to realize the best practices for handling food, to avoid diseases and to prevent cross-infection while handling and purchasing food. Moreover, the authority called on consumers to follow its official accounts on social media to learn more about its food-related tips. ADAFSA also warned the public against the risk of being misled by food-related rumors and anonymous information, stressing the need to get information from reliable sources.
INFOSAN is a global network comprising entities responsible for food safety. It is managed jointly by FAO and WHO with the secretariat in WHO. INFOSAN assists Member States in ensuring rapid sharing of information during food safety emergencies. In addition, it enhances cooperation between countries and networks, and builds their capacities in managing food safety emergencies. Moreover, ADAFSA organized INFOSAN's Second Global Meeting in Abu Dhabi, in December 2019.