Dubai: New food safety rules covering the hugely popular shawarma are expected soon, it was revealed on Tuesday.
The rules will cover the way eggs are used in mayonnaise for shawarmas as well as the space, layout, cooking, and storage standards for the outlet, among other points, Dubai Municipality officials said.
Their comments came on the sidelines of the announcement of a campaign to train and educate some 4,000 food handlers in Dubai on food safety.
The campaign, run by the municipality and Unilever Food Solutions, was announced on April 7, World Health Day, which this year focused on food safety.
The shawarma rules could be implemented or announced by the end of April but it is understood outlets will be given a grace period to fully comply.
Common, cost-effective, healthy
Shawarma, an Arabic meal made from shreds of grilled chicken or meat pieces rolled in pita bread, is one of the most common snacks enjoyed by Emiratis and expats.
The meat is piled up in boneless slices in a cylinder shape around a large central skewer rotated over a vertical grill.
Shawarma stands, attached to restaurants, are abundant in the UAE. They used to be found in the open air before officials directed they be moved indoors or confined in an enclosure.
On Tuesday, municipality officials said there was already an exhaustive Food Code available for all food outlets to help them comply with the hundreds of existing food safety rules to a greater degree.
Khalid Sharif, director of the municipality’s food control department, said the food safety campaign would also be used to spread awareness about the upcoming rules to retailers.
Specifics regarding shawarma sellers will be introduced to ensure maximum compliance in an area that “by its nature is risk-prone”, added Bobby Krishna, the department’s principal food inspection officer.
Krishna said inspectors “occasionally find salmonella” contamination in shawarma shops. Salmonella are bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Eggs are a food group that is infected with salmonella more than others.
Krishna added that some shawarma makers use raw eggs — susceptible to salmonella — instead of pasteurised eggs to make their own mayonnaise, which will not be allowed.
“If one person has an infected egg, one person falls sick. If you use that egg in mayonnaise — which will go into many shawarmas — many people will fall sick,” he added.
Chicken, the most popular meat used in shawarma, is another food source more commonly associated with salmonella infections than other foodstuffs.
“We are going very risk-specific. You don’t wait for food poisoning to occur. Shawarma by its nature is risk-prone. We occasional find salmonella; we found some unfit samples.”
He stressed however “we are not saying ‘don’t eat shawarma’.”
The safeguards will include tighter controls and requirements on meat sourcing, storage, space for the stall, equipment, chillers and other aspects of the entire shawarma service.
Both officials pointed out Dubai has an excellent track record in food safety, with no reason for customers to be concerned.
Still, food safety is a growing problem globally, with “thousands of people” dying from food poisoning every day worldwide, said Christina Doublichevitche, a health and nutrition manager at Unilever.
There is a global need for more awareness across the entire food supply chain, which is why the municipality and Unilever Food Solutions announced their collaboration on World Health Day, officials said.
The aim of the project will be to provide free online and classroom training as well as educational tool kits to cover food safety principles.
The two main benefits of this project will be to refresh food handlers’ knowledge on key food safety practices and provide a free online platform for easy learning.
The platform is accessible here.
It will also support the global Unilever Sustainable Living Plan that aims to address issues such as the sourcing of agricultural raw materials sustainably, food waste, and food safety.
“We are very proud to collaborate with Unilever Food Solutions and see great value in this partnership. We have already made solid accomplishments in Dubai thanks to the dedication of our training partner companies and inspector teams,” Sharif said.
“We look forward to reaching even more food handlers this year with the support of Unilever Food Solutions. It is only through strong collaborations like this that we can raise awareness, build knowledge and motivate staff to fully understand and prevent food-borne hazard risks.”
There will also be ready-to-use, multilingual kitchen signage to help educate around 4,000 individuals in the Dubai food service industry. The training will be jointly delivered at the municipality premises every month.
“Based on our conversations with restaurant chefs we understood the challenges behind training multinational staff with different capabilities and finding the time to do it," Mads Houlberg, Unilever Food Solutions Managing Director, Middle East, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. "
"Since the majority of chefs showed interest in free and simple training programmes we felt a strong responsibility to support them with a solution that can make a difference,” he added.