Dubai food inspectors out in full force during Ramadan

Ramadan 2012: Constant vigil by health inspection officers ensures food served by establishments is safe.

Abdelrahim Osman Gader inspects fried foods displayed outside a restaurant in Deira.
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DUBAI // As Abdelrahim Osman Gader approaches a table of fried foods outside a cafeteria in Deira, he has already noted a serious violation.

A senior food health inspection officer from the Food Control Department of Dubai Municipality, Mr Gader is one of a group of inspectors who are out in force during the Holy Month, monitoring restaurants from 1.30pm to 6.30pm and Ramadan tents between 8.30pm and 2am every day.

"It's common practice to want to display food outside in the hours leading to iftar," said Mr Gader. "But this food is ready to eat, so it has a higher risk of contamination as there is no further processing that may help kill any germs that come in contact with the food.

"That's why we are so stringent on this type of preparation of food. It must be in a glass case, not on plates covered with paper like this. It also has to be kept at above 65 degrees Celsius at all times."

Using his hand-held device, Mr Gader can download his scheduled visits, view the municipal checklists, and file his full reports.

"How often we visit a location is determined by the results of the previous visit: the higher an establishment scores on the inspection, the less frequently they need to be inspected."

Establishments receive a grade from A to E, depending on their overall average score. Two E grades in a row will result in the immediate closure of the establishment.

Mr Gader gives the Deira cafeteria a warning for displaying food improperly. He will return tomorrow to ensure they are not making the same mistake.

He also notes the violation in the restaurant's municipality-provided log book so that if another inspector sees the same violation, they can take proper action.

After breaking for iftar and evening prayers, the inspectors will move on to the Ramadan tents.

There aren't as many tents to be seen as in previous years, says Abdul Aziz Bashir Elsheikh, the principal food health inspection officer.

"As the weather has been getting hotter, more and more tents have been closing down each year. It's too expensive to keep them cooled and well ventilated," he says.

The inspectors will also investigate any report they receive about a possible health violation.

"We get a large number of false complaints from the public - sometimes it's due to bad service - but we have to investigate all the complaints we get, no matter how minor."

The number of complaints has dropped this year, according to Mr Elsheikh. "Usually we get 200 to 300 complaints during Ramadan. So far this year we've got less than 50 complaints, and all for very minor things.

"This is a critical indicator of how our hygiene standards have improved this past year."