Food-safety training, or face fines

Food providers given deadline to designate one 'Person In Charge' to take responsibility for quality of offerings.

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DUBAI // Thousands of food outlets that have yet to send a member of staff for municipal training may be fined up to Dh2,000 from next month.

The municipality yesterday warned that all restaurants, supermarkets, caterers and anyone else serving food to the public must have a certified "Person In Charge" (Pic) by January 1 or risk penalties.

"They will be fined if they do not have a Pic," said Asia Al Raeesi, the head of food planning and studies at the municipality.

"We are initially focusing on high-risk businesses. The Pic will be held accountable for food safety. We expect more responsible behaviour from them."

More than 6,000 people from more than 4,000 outlets have been trained this year to become Pics. Authorities expect another 1,000 establishments to be certified by the end of the month.

The municipality estimated there were more than 10,000 food businesses in the emirate.

The drive, which officially began in January this year, aims to raise safety standards and lower the number of food-poisoning cases.

Officials said the campaign would promote self-regulation among food suppliers.

"The Person In Charge programme is based on the principle that a trained and certified manager can enhance food safety in an establishment" said Ms Al Raeesi.

Offenders can receive a fine of Dh200 but the amount is be doubled each time an offence is committed, to a maximum of Dh2,000.

"For health and safety inspections to be effective, a Pic has to be present," Ms Al Raeesi said, adding the municipality would not carry out inspections if the outlet did not have a certified manager.

The designated supervisor or manager must take part in intensive training for two or three days, depending on the size of their establishment.

The sessions focus on handling food items, storage and serving, temperature control, personal hygiene, staff grooming and sanitisation.

"They go through practical sessions since a Pic should know what to do if a problem arises," Ms Al Raeesi said. "There is a handbook that tells them who to call."

The guides are being prepared in Arabic, Urdu and Malayalam.

"We are looking at helping them out and creating a positive relationship," she said. "A Pic should feel free to call Dubai Municipality if they are facing problems."

Restaurant managers say the Pic initiative has already improved their relationship with authorities.

"We used to worry if there were complaints of food poisoning from customers," said Silji Varghese, a manager and Pic at the Calicut Paragon Indian restaurant in Al Karama. "But when we follow all the regulations, we can confidently say if it is our fault or not.

"And if customers threaten to call officials, we now also have access to the municipality and we can directly inform them of incidents."

After three days of training this year, Mr Varghese said he regularly checked if suppliers were handling food correctly, maintained a log book, monitored the temperature of the refrigerators and oversaw staff grooming.

"This is a new approach," said Bobby Krishna, the senior food studies and surveys officer at the municipality's food control department.

"The future of food safety is to have managers in control in their businesses.

"A positive food-safety culture will not be possible unless the manager exerts direct control over food handling."

Candidates must register at the food control department, undergo the course and sit for an exam at the end of it, after which Pics are accredited by the municipality.

Licences will be renewed every five years.