Database needed to track food safety, official says

A Dubai government official who oversees food-safety control suggests that the Emirates create a national database to track violations.

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DUBAI // In order to improve the quality of imported food, the UAE needs a national database to track violations, a Dubai food official said today.

"Dubai is a global food village," said Khalid Sharif al Awadi, the head of the Food Control Department at the Dubai Municipality.

With imports from 160 other countries, Mr al Awadi said, the Emirates must work together at a national level to protect consumers from dangers in food, such as mold and salmonella. Mr al Awadi made his comments at the opening today of the Sixth Dubai International Food Safety Conference at the World Trade Centre in Dubai.

"We refuse food because of the risk to consumers," he said, "and so our sampling focus is on food, which is more critical to the consumer."

In the last year, the amount of food the municipality destroyed has almost doubled, up to 423,000 tonnes.

The reason for the increase in rejected food is not that imports are worsening, officials said, but that the municipality has developed better lab and sampling methods. Around 20 per cent of these samples were found to be non-compliant, officials said.

Almost 30 per cent of that bulk was rejected due to microbiological aspects such as mold and salmonella. The physical attributes of food are also taken into consideration.  In 2009, food such as processed meat made up 4 per cent of food rejected based on its physical attributes. In 2010, that number rose to 32 per cent.

An increased vigilance in Dubai is important, Mr al Awadi said, because Jebel Ali port takes in 91 per cent of the country's food imports. The next step, he said, is to send delegations to major offending countries to educate them about the UAE's safety standards.

"We have [the information now], " he said. "So we have to control the country of origin through their laboratories and trade institutions."