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‘We need a framework’

Food establishments, refrigeration experts call for food safety legislation at the third edition of Food Chain. Story: B Surendar.

| | Jul 13, 2012 | 9:07 pm
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Food establishments, refrigeration experts call for food safety legislation at the third edition of Food Chain. Story: B Surendar.

Food Chain Dubai 2012, on May 22 and 23 at The Address Dubai Marina, was a useful exercise for all delegates, with several key takeaways.

The participating food establishments were most forthcoming with their views, and they spoke with a deep sense of purpose.

They spoke about the importance of quality and safety, the need for legislation and enforcement, and the need for better awareness, education and training.

Abdul Rasheed of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, set the tone by sharing with delegates how in a survey in the UK, 55% of the respondents said they would switch brands immediately in response to food safety incidents. Rasheed’s words demonstrated the critical nature of cold chain. In other words, it was a clear message to the refrigeration industry that what they did and what they provided could impact not only health but also perception. This proved beyond doubt that brand managers at food establishments and refrigeration engineers had a similar goal ahead of them.

Another participant, Lachlan Bowtell of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), said, “High quality and integrity do sell.” So that was further proof for the refrigeration industry, is ever one was needed, that their exertions were intertwined with the society at large.

Jeroen Tollenar of Culimer Seafood Company also spoke of quality and about how maintaining tuna at -60°C (super frozen) prevented discolouration. He said, “It prevents the plasma inside the cells to crystalise and expand to maintain the fresh cell structure.” In other words, if temperature control were to be compromised, chefs in five star hotels would consider the tuna less appealing. In short, Tollenar alluded to the fact that refrigeration was closely associated with market economics.

A recurring theme on Day 1 was the need for legislation. Speaker after speaker, and panelist after panelist, be they from the food establishments or the authorities, touched upon this subject.

Bowtell of Meat and Livestock Australia said how he would love for the UAE to have one standard for the importation of meat and livestock. “At this point, we have one standard for Dubai, one for Abu Dhabi, one for Sharjah and one for Ras Al Khaimah,” he said. “As an exporting entity, it is very frustrating.”

Carrying the point of the need for legislation further, Bobby Krishna of Dubai Municipality spoke of how he had noticed the refrigeration holding equipment to be almost always over-stacked. And Dr Suheel Ahmed of Arabian Farms spoke of improper handling of chicken in the cold store. He spoke of how the doors were kept open for eight hours, with vehicles coming in and going out, allowing hot air to enter the area, resulting in temperature abuse. He spoke about the need to address this particular issue and also the need for not only installing data loggers but also monitoring them over several intervals in a day. He suggested that legislation could be introduced to cover these critical aspects of the food supply chain.

Mike Wunsch of Barakat spoke of doors of fridges being kept open in summertime in petrol stations. As a result, the juices his company supplied were exposed to temperatures like 15°C. He spoke for the need for legislation to curb this practice and, thus, protect high-risk food products.

A member of the audience spoke about the need for temperature monitoring and recording as something very critical. “The refrigerator is working perfectly in the supermarket, but then the people go home, and in the 12-hour gap, no one knows if the refrigeration system has defaulted or if the power has gone off, so there is a need for continuous monitoring, and this need to be regulated by the authorities,” he said.

Dr Ahmed spoke of the need for commitment from store owners to not only handle the food properly but also to demand that equipment manufacturers delivered the best possible equipment. Currently, he said, the commitment towards food safety was not there. “Even when they have the equipment, they tend to switch off the alerts, which raises a serious issue,” he said. “If the commitment is not there, how will we monitor the quality, he asked.”

Chef Uwe Michel Steen of Radisson spoke of how he had observed open trucks leaving the wholesale market and how vegetables were loaded in the streets. He also remarked on how most small restaurants and smaller supermarkets were not climate controlled at all.

Bobby Krishna said that legislation needed to be binding on the food industry, which often complained about the availability of space and money, but when the layout for a new supermarket was done, the least priority was given to the choice of location of the refrigeration equipment. For instance, he said, it was not a good idea to keep the equipment in an area that was exposed to sunlight for a larger part of the day. This, he observed, had ramifications for cost and also safety.

Rasheed of CIEH added to this by saying there was an opportunity for the cold chain industry to get into regulation and get guidelines on how to use the equipment effectively. And in coming up with legislation, the HVACR industry needed to support the regulators.

A member of the audience spoke about the unprofessional sector and the professional sector in the food industry and how so many owners in the unprofessional sector had no understanding of food and how in order to save costs, they bought low equipment that was not durable and how the layout was poorly planned. The member of the audience gave the example of the freezer door being kept open outside and the food being exposed to heat shock. He suggested the need for legislation in that area and added that such food establishments should be identified at the very beginning – at the point where they started registering for licenses. “They ought to be trained in proper food handling methods and they have to be strictly told to pay attention to the layout of their stores,” he said.

The member of the audience also spoke about the need for predictive maintenance.

With reference to the professional sector, he said that consulting companies should help the food establishments get training in handling such equipment as blast chillers.

Another member of the audience, Raymond de Graaf of Al Reyami spoke of the need for Dubai Municipality to establish regulations for the construction of cold storage facilities and how the Emirate did not permit the construction of structures exceeding 50 metres. Saying that floor space in Dubai was expenseive, but building into the air was relatively cheap, he suggested regulation in this. “Cold stores have to be as high as possible to justify the investments,” he said. “Cold air goes down, so higher the cold store, the more money we can save.”

It was heartening to note that Dubai Municipality, to whom the suggestions and appeals for legislation were made, responded in a positive fashion and with utter transparency. Asia Abdulwahab Al Raeesi, Bobby Krishna and Bashir Yousif, three key figures at Dubai Municipality’s Food Control Department, were candid in their view and acknowledged the need for legislation. For instance, while speaking during a panel discussion, Yousif said he did see a gap that legislation had to fill. He added that nobody was going to assess what the consultant offered or what the manufacturer offered, because the standards simply were not there. He spoke for the need to approve certain consultants and suggested that there was a possible role for the Dubai Accreditation Centre in approving the consultants and ensuring that cold chain facilities were designed as per technical standards.

Al Raeesi added that legislation would certainly help in gaining a better understanding of the situation.

Interestingly enough, Richard Sprenger of the Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance, during a presentation, spoke of how legislation did not necessarily lead to best practice. He was speaking from a UK perspective. He said that legislation in itself was not enough, especially in the case of small food premises, because they did not have the resources and the means to understand and interpret the legislation. So there was the need for a link between the government and the food premises to ensure the purpose of the legislation was met.

Sprenger added that food safety legislation depended on science, environment and existing standards.

Legislation, he said, faced several hurdles. “What is the cost of legislation?” is a common question, he said.

Another influence was commercial pressure, Sprenger said, adding that public pressure also affected legislation. In all, he said, these challenges needed to be addressed.

Snapshots from the event

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