Restaurants braced for inspectors

In the wake of a food poisoning tragedy, the emphasis is on the outlets themselves to take responsibility for running a hygienic operation.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Jan 31,2011: Workers at the Student Biryani restaurant in Karama in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News.
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DUBAI // The first 150 graduates of a new municipality training programme are ready to take on the task of ensuring their restaurants are safe and clean.

Under Dubai Municipality's Person in Charge (PIC) programme, food outlets will be expected to take the initiative to ensure they meet safety standards rather than relying on the municipality's Food Control department to police them.

The PIC idea was part of a plan to raise restaurant standards and lower the number of food poisoning cases in Dubai. That plan gained momentum in August 2009 after the deaths of two young siblings who ate spoiled takeaway food in Al Qusais.

By the end of this year, every restaurant and cafeteria in the emirate is expected to have a trained PIC.

Saleem Shahzad, the owner of Student Briyani restaurant in Karama, came top of the first PIC class with a score of 58 out of 60.

Now, Mr Shahzad goes through a daily checklist to ensure procedures are safely and hygienically carried out.

"The training was very informative and we can already see the changes," he said. "The municipality will carry on with monthly checks and provide us with an on-the-spot report."

Since his establishment opened last June, it has received a few minor violations, but the latest reports have all been positive.

"I think this will bring about big change. I see it being very successful ," he said.

Khalid Mohammed Sharif, the director of food control at Dubai Municipality, said: "PIC is the most important initiative because everything will change: in procedures, in our research … Even the inspection systems will be more detailed as our inspectors will now take on the role of auditors."

To date, 150 representatives of cafeterias and restaurants have registered, undergone training and completed examinations.

Those who successfully complete the PIC exam act as liaison between the premises and the municipality. Their job is to ensure that municipal policies are carried out correctly at all times by anyone handling food.

Whoever is chosen as the PIC should be a member of the food establishment's staff and have direct authority, control or supervision over employees who engage in storage, preparation, display or service of food.

"The mentality needs to change," said Mr Sharif. "They [food establishments] should shoulder more responsibility so it won't be just the Food Control [inspectors] who are active."

After passing the exam, the PIC will be accredited with the municipality for five years.

Rema Sunil, the managing director of Safe Hand Foodtech Consultants, is in charge of the PIC training programme.

She says standards in the UAE are not high enough because of cultural and socio-economic dispairites.

"Most of the workforce is uneducated and hired from poor countries where hygiene has not been drummed into their culture," said Mrs Sunil.

The intensive three-day training focuses on areas such as handling food items, storage and serving, temperature control, personal hygiene and sanitisation.

Mrs Sunil said the emphasis of the programme was to "put words into action until hygiene and safety becomes naturally part of daily routine".

"This is a great programme but we need full commitment from the management of all food establishments for them to understand the importance of the concept," she said.

The next round of training is scheduled for February 13 to 15.