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Fears over hygiene standards

Although restaurants in four- and five-star hotels are excelling health and safety standards, concerns rage over the region's cafeterias and smaller outlets

Despite the rising health and safety standards in four- and five-star hotels, smaller three-star properties and stand-alone cafeterias are not keeping up with the same levels of hygiene.

Last month, Jeddah Municipality fined 14 restaurants and takeaway shops for serving rotten fish to customers. It was reported by Al-Madinah newspaper that inspectors found that food cooked in these places was unfit to eat, and many of the chefs did not have medical certificates.

However, the problem is not just confined to Saudi Arabia, there are also concerns about certain outlets in the UAE as well.

“A number of outlets do have poor hygiene records. Personally, there are very few four-star outlets I would eat at. But saying that, I have seen the kitchen of a certain five-star outlet and I would never entertain eating there,” said a source to Caterer Middle East.

“Food that shouldn’t be frozen is, it is then defrosted and then refrozen. It is also hard to say if the staff regularly wash their hands. But something like that cannot be monitored easily,” the source added.

Although many companies and the municipality are aware that refreezing is occurring, it is hard to regulate and does not just happen at the outlet, but also earlier on in the supply chain.

“From what I know, many adopt this refreezing technique because it is cheaper, and Dubai Municipality approves of it in some instances. However, the danger is in the meat industry. Many meat factories buy frozen meat products, thaw it, process it and then refreeze it before selling it as frozen. Not to mention those who buy expired frozen meat and change the expiry dates,” commented Rita Abou Obeid, executive manager, Boecker Food Safety.

However, one four-star hotel that prides itself on its health and safety standards is the Radisson SAS Dubai Media City. As well as each member of the back of house team having a basic food hygiene certificate, senior members of the team have advanced certificates, with HACCP controls also in place.

“HACCP is about controls. Everything has to be controlled and recorded, so nothing slips through the net, and if anything does happen, the back up is there as everything is recorded,” commented Marco Aveta, executive chef, Radisson SAS, Dubai Media City.

“But it is not just about HACCP. It is also about the hygiene of the staff. I make sure their uniforms are clean, their nails are cut and they have good personal hygiene, otherwise they are not allowed to work,” he added.

However chef Marco, who has worked in the region for over eight years, has seen a massive leap in hygiene practices.

“The Municipality does random spot checks, so hygiene standards are now more than satisfactory in four and five-star restaurants. The problem now is tackling the small cafeterias and hotels. They are very far away from being satisfactory and there is a massive gulf between these cafes and the restaurants at the top end of the scale,” commented chef Marco.

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