Most of the food served at lavish iftar buffets goes waste during Ramadan. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Residents, eateries and hotels are being urged by the UAE government to prepare only the amount of food needed for Ramadan iftars and suhours to counter an expected doubling of wasted food making its way into municipal landfills during the month.

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi

At a special food-waste awareness event on Monday in Dubai, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, suggested that a community effort across the country is needed to show restraint when cooking up huge food presentations for home guests or customers.

In addition to boosting national food security, Al Zeyoudi said reducing food waste also helps the UAE environment by diminishing the landfill stream of decomposing food which releases methane gas contributing to global warming.

Food waste doubles during Ramadan, Al Zeyoudi told Gulf News, and contributes to an estimated $4 billion (Dh14.69 billion) in yearly food waste in the UAE as compared to the S2.6 trillion (Dh9.5 trillion) in annual food waste globally.

“Overspending during Ramadan is bad behaviour. We want to ensure people don’t waste food,” Al Zeyoudi said in an interview, adding people need to be more mindful during Ramadan to refrain from overconsuming the food.

“This Ramadan, people should consider what they are overusing. It’s important, vital, for us, for our children and our future generations. We would like to ensure this life will continue and be ensured for future generations,” Al Zeyoudi said.

Ayesha Al Abdooli, Director of Green Development with the Environment Ministry, told those gathered for the event that “of the waste generated in the UAE, 40 per cent of it is coming from food waste. That is a huge waste. A huge amount of money is lost dumping this food.”

The ministry, she said, is working to “achieve 75 per cent landfill divergence by 2021. I believe we can achieve it.”

Emmanuel Panis of the UAE Food Bank said that the organisation, formed in March, will be accepting leftover processed, cooked or fresh food from grocery stores, restaurants and manufacturers and passing it along to those who are in need.

With a plan to place fridges across the country where the donated food can be collected free, some of the food once bound for the landfill will be diverted thereby reducing food waste.

“Whatever comes in goes out straight away, we don’t store it [donated food] for long,” said Panis. “We’re coming up with a solution … at the end of the value chain.”

Mark Zornes, founder of London-based Winnow Food Waste Management, talked about his food-waste reduction solution that helps restaurants and kitchens weigh and monitor their food products during preparation.

By gauging the food stream, chefs can better grasp “the right quantity of what’s on the plate and getting it right within your own service,” Zornes said in order to cut food waste.

Dwayne Krisko, Executive Chef at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre uses the Winnow system, which in February was estimated to have saved up to 14,000 plates of food from going into the waste bin.

Krisko said he “believes everyone should take ownership” of food waste prevention and said menu options need tweaking to stave off leftover food.

Foods to be inspected

Dubai Municipality said on Monday that it will begin inspecting food premises from warehouses to plate in preparation for Ramadan to ensure proper food safety and hygienic conditions, said Sultan Al Tahir, head of Food Inspection Section in the Food Safety Department in the municipality.

“The total number of food establishments in Dubai is 750 warehouses, 1,580 grocery stores and 590 hypermarkets and our team is mainly focusing on food storage by checking food temperature,” said Al Tahir.

Al Tahir said the department is stepping up food-safety efforts at 50 food warehouses and 30 consumer stores for Ramadan.

Dairy products and the Vegetables and Fruits Market will also be monitored, he said.

“The campaign will be dedicated to inspecting cooperatives and major shops, and the display and storage of food will be checked,” said Al Tahir in a statement. “The Food Safety Department has enhanced its preparations for the month of Ramadan to ensure safe preparation, supply and preservation of all types of food and beverages before and during the month due to increased quantities of preparations in order to ensure the health and safety of the consumers.”