ABU DHABI // Restaurant operators promised to improve hygiene standards after the emirate's food safety watchdog named 17 outlets that were temporarily closed because of violations. The restaurants posed risks to public health, according to Mohammed al Reyaysa, the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority's spokesman. He said they were identified because they repeatedly failed to uphold safety regulations.
"When all efforts fail, we are left with no other option but to order the closure of the outlet that functions in utter disregard for public health and the law of the land," he said. "The health and safety of the consumer is the red line that should not be crossed in any circumstance." Of the 17 establishments that were closed this year, 15 were in Abu Dhabi city and two were in Al Gharbia. They were allowed to reopen after the Food Control Authority was confident the violations had been corrected.
One of the restaurants was shut last year for the same reason, and a third closure could result in the outlet's licence being revoked, Mr al Reyaysa said. The restaurants closed were "fraught with potential danger to the health of the consumers", such as kitchens infested with insects, improper drainage systems and waste disposal, and mixing meat and fruits, he said. The work supervisor at Hatem Iranian Restaurant in Marina Mall, who asked not be named, said his restaurant was closed after being caught twice in a year for the same problems.
"We were issued a fine last November because the staff were not complying with some regulations such as wearing a cap, gloves or apron. And because they found water on the floor," he said. He said the inspectors focused on small details and sometimes arrived during preparations hours. "They did not have a specific timing," he said. "Sometimes they used to show up while we were still preparing to open or at 11pm.
"But now I'm aware that even the smallest details are important. When we're at home if a hair falls in the kitchen we overlook it. However, when we are preparing food for customers, these things cannot be overlooked." He has put a notice in the kitchen reminding workers to abide by the rules or face dismissal. Mr al Reyaysa criticised restaurants that complain inspections are too rigorous. "We have clear requirements and regulations that are based on global best practices," he said. "We are not less, and our consumers are not less, than those in Europe and America. We do not sacrifice the health of the consumer so establishments can make more money or avoid having their names mentioned in the media."
He also defended the practice of naming offenders. "If the situation reaches a closure it means that the establishment didn't fulfil its requirements and we noticed through naming them that there is increased following of the regulations," he said. The supervisor at Hatem said he had recruited two employees to sweep the floor all day. "I cannot afford to repeat the loss the closure caused," he said. "My restaurant closed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, resulting in a loss in around Dh150,000 (US$41,000)."
Ali Bakeer, a supervisor at Al Wahda restaurant on Airport Road, said his establishment had been closed for a day earlier this year by the Food Control Authority because it was not clean. "I think the inspection process was fair," he said. "It was a good lesson for us. We improved a lot after the closure and our customers are more happy now." He blamed a shortage of staff for the previous problems. The restaurant has hired two more employees, who will be arriving in two or three days.
Fewer restaurants were closed than in the same period last year, despite adding Al Gharbia to the inspectors' area. From January to May 2009, 42 restaurants and outlets were closed in the capital. Jood Nasser, a 23-year-old Emirati planning analyst who is a regular customer at Hatem, said she would continue to eat there despite the temporary closure. "The food is really good compared to its competitors, and the seating plan is nice," she said. "I also like the location; it is very convenient being in Marina Mall."
Maryam Amiri, a 25-year-old Emirati who works in communications, said: "Once I find out any place has been shut down for health issues, I stop going. It is not like we have a lack of choices here that I'd risk my health for a specific restaurant." firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com