A little thought and some action can go a long way to make food safe for consumption. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) is setting standards for the sector in the capital.
Five years of sustained monitoring, creating awareness and ensuring hygiene has resulted in a high rate of compliance by the food industry. ï¿½When people develop intelligent buying habits, pay close attention to what they buy and notify us if something is suspicious, half the battle is won,ï¿½ says Mohamed Jalal Al Reyaysa, Director, PR & Communication, ADFCA. This is in line with its stated mission to develop a sustainable agriculture and food sector that ensures the delivery of safe food to the public.
In a wide-ranging interview to Khaleej Times, Al Reyaysa spells out whatï¿½s in store from the authority and also lists out its achievements.
Q: During summer, more food gets spoilt in restaurants and supermarkets. Is the ADFCA setting up systems to ensure safety, particularly during transport?
A: We have also been doing a good deal of work among the public as well the various players in the food chain to increase awareness about safety issues. Recently, we targeted bakeries and confectioneries in the capital for a special inspection campaign, for which we took the media along. All these are in addition to the regular work our inspectors diligently do all the time. Since the possibility of food getting rotten is high, we take special care to monitor vehicles that transport foodstuff. We would also like to emphasis the importance of consumersï¿½ awareness about food safety issues. When people develop intelligent buying habits, pay close attention to what they buy and notify us if something is suspicious, half the battle is won.
Q: Has the ADFCA laid out standards for food storage quality? Are they made explicit to restaurants and grocery store owners?
A: Yes, we have laid out standards and specifications for the storage of all food. The standards depend on the types of food and their quantity. There are temperature specifications for each food item. The standards for meat will be different from those of frozen foods and so on. All the players in the food chain are aware of the standards they should adhere to. In fact, the first phase, since the inception of the ADFCA, focused on sensitising food establishments on these standards. We began penalising violators only after they have been made fully aware of the standards.
Q: What is the rate of compliance?
A: I must say very high. The rate of compliance has seen a steady rise over the past couple of years to an extent that we are very satisfied with the level of food safety in the emirate in general. Major violations are very few now, even the ones detected and warned against are mostly minor discrepancies. For instance, when we inspected 52 bakeries and confectioneries, only two violations were found. There were 39 warnings, but none of them were of a serious nature.
Q: What are the fines? How much has been collected in the past quarter?
A: The fines are not determined by us. Once we detect a violation, we refer it straight away to the courts and it is the courts that decide the modes of punishment, which can range from fines and closures to even imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the violation and its implications on public health. Since it is within the jurisdiction of the courts, we will not be able to give you any figures on the amount collected by way of fines.
Q: How many establishments have been closed due to non-adherence to food safety norms?
A: Again, this differs from time to time. The closure of a food establishment is hardly of a permanent nature. Once the reasons for closure are rectified, they will be allowed to reopen and function normally. Three establishments were closed in the month of June, for instance, but they may have resumed operations now after rectifying their mistakes.
Q: You have introduced Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and Food Import Management Information System (FIMIS). How do they help in the process?
A: LIMS automates the management of samples and makes the whole process of laboratory functions easier to manage and faster to deliver. FIMIS is an authentic and reliable tool for documenting, processing and managing information related to food import products. Both these have made the processes more efficient, easier to manage and result-intensive.
Q: Will the inspections be more planned in the coming days, months?
A: Our inspectors are always working in the field, visiting food outlets, checking vehicles transporting foods, inspecting foods that arrive at the various border posts and so on.
Q: How aware is the consumer aware of his/her rights vis- a-vis food quality? Are you spreading enough awareness?
A: I think the various awareness drives that we launched and the support we received from the media in the UAE have resulted in heightened public awareness about food safety issues. In fact, we spend as much efforts on awareness drives as on enforcement activities. We do this through the media, awareness publications, our website, conferences and seminars and other programmes. Just recently, we launched Zady BlackBerry service for food safety-related information. We invite people to subscribe to this service, which is absolutely free of cost.
Q: Are there consumer protection forums under the auspices of the ADFCA? How is the customer protected through all of this?
A: Let me answer your questions this way. Our task is to protect the consumer in the area of food safety and we are doing our best to that end. We consider the interests of the consumers as the red line that should never be crossed under any circumstances. If we receive any complaint or information from any consumer about even the smallest instance of malpractice in regard to food safety, we take stringent and immediate action.
August 12, 2010