There are a number of stages at which the quality and integrity of our food can become compromised, including direct or indirect exposure to pests, pesticides, pathogens and other harmful bacteria. All these can lead to food poisoning and other related diseases. From the farm to our forks, as Dubai Municipality Food Studies and Planning Specialist Bobby Krishna says, “Every link in the food chain can introduce a food safety hazard. This makes food safety the shared responsibility of the government, the food industry and the consumers.”
There are simple ways to balance food safety and food security. Krishna advises that the best method is to keep food safety regulatory decisions based on the latest scientific information, work with the food industry to ensure that those regulatory decisions are practical and useful and then work with the consumers to ensure that they follow the instructions on the label, and use the food as intended.
Food security concerns are primarily addressed by policies on farming, food procurement and trade, policies that could have a long-term impact on the availability of food (farming considerations work differently in a country like UAE that’s heavily dependent on imports). However, in the hospitality sector, food security measures are centered on efforts to reduce waste by better planning of meals, controlling portion sizes and optimizing shelf life of food products.
Using cook chill processes, maintaining the cold chain and good portion control can reduce food wastage. Relying on empirically ‘optimal’ shelf life of products rather than taking a hyper-cautious approach would be the way forward.
The new regulation for food-safety requires scientific validation of processes. Inspections will also be based on risk – addressing issues that could directly impact food safety first!
As one would expect, food risks are less common in mid to high-end restaurant and food chains due to the strict protocol and practices adopted internally. Others are less regulated and more ad-hoc, meaning that one should always check to see if the place they are ordering from or dining at is sanitary and hygienic.
Similarly certain foods are also more prone to contamination. Chef Bobby Kapoor of Cartalyst Food Solutions says that rice, a common staple in the Middle East, is susceptible to listeria. Given the climate conditions and heat in kitchens, food poisoning is a very possible as modulations in temperature can affect the shelf life of food.
As a food product distributor, Kapoor is a believer in the cook chill approach, especially when catering large quantities and transferring food from the central kitchen to a unit. Transporting food from catering units to other locations can also be tricky and requires careful packaging in proper hot-cambro containers.
Cook, chill is a process wherein you cook food to above 82 degrees and then chill to below 5 degrees within 20 minutes, curbing the odds of bacteria growth by not allowing food to remain in the danger zone of 20-60 degrees.
Chef Manish Chandna of Action Hospitality suggests taking added precaution when it comes to cooking poultry or eggs, reducing the number of times the dish is reheated. “If these ingredients are to be used in a cold salad, maintain the cold chain at all times even during the cutting/portioning process.”
Thankfully, cases of food poisoning leading to hospitalisation is uncommon here in the UAE. According to Dr. Mustafa Kutiyanawala, Owner of Central Private Hospital, Sharjah, there hasn’t been a marked increase in the numbers of cases in recent year. “The strict rules of the municipality and their enforcement are likely to be the result of the low incidence of food poisoning.”
Illnesses from food, commonly come from uncooked/poorly-cooked foods, improper storage of food or contamination by the food handler i.e. chef/waiter. It is also imperative that all food establishments regularly check the health of their staff for communicable diseases.
Common symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and fever. Most cases are self-limiting and treated at home. That is not to say that certain incidence should not be treated more seriously. Frequent episodes of vomiting and the inability to keep liquids down, bloody stools, severe abdominal cramping, fever with a temperature higher than 101.5F (38.6C), dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness, neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms require immediate medical attention.
To prevent food poisoning wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often, keep raw foods stored separately from ready cooked foods, defrost food safely and ‘when in doubt, throw it out’.