Cleaning in the food industry is a very sensitive task and definitely not an easy one. However, it is a critical step since it is crucial to maintain and guarantee food safety. Understanding the varied nature of food products, why we clean, which cleaning and disinfection chemicals can be used and how frequently the cleaning must be done is the key to ensuring a safe, hygienic food environment.
When it comes to open food markets (particularly vegetable, fish and meat markets), the cleaning operation becomes even more difficult, especially in the Middle East where summer temperatures soar above 45 degrees.
Some of the major challenges in cleaning open food markets are as below:
Frequency of cleaning
While cleaning at a lesser frequency will lead to odour, cleaning excessively will also impact the quality of food being sold in open markets. Hence, it is important to decide on the frequency of cleaning. Washing food storage areas daily and spraying them three times a week to repel insects and rodents is an effective schedule.
While selling vegetables, fish or meat in open markets, odour remains one of the biggest challenges. In hot temperatures, the challenge is even bigger because the chances of food spoilage and germ transmission are even greater.
Insects and rodents
Open markets can attract a lot of insects and rodents. They can infect the food with germs and make it unfit for consumption. Hence, the using of certain food grade repellants becomes the need of the hour.
Maintaining the temperature
The sun's ultraviolet lights affect fruits and vegetables and make them prone to contamination. Avoiding the sun and maintaining just the right temperature (to avoid bacteria) is a challenge in the summers.
Minimizing the bacteria
The risk of bacteria from human hands, trays, buckets, market floor, waste water, among others in open markets is relatively high. However, these challenges do not mean that hygiene cannot be maintained. To dig deeper into the topic, Clean Middle East speaks to Mr. Bobby Krishna, Senior Food Safety Specialist at Dubai Municipality and Nada Ali Nasser AlShamsi, Permits and Food Control Officer at Dubai Municipality.
Why do you think food hygiene is important?
Food and water borne illnesses are one of the most significant contributors to death and disability globally. Food safety measures and practices help reduce the chances of someone getting ill from consumption of contaminated food or water.
While food businesses must ensure food safety to ensure that their customers/ consumers are not harmed, consumers play a major role in ensuring that the food is safely stored and consumed once it is bought.
Can you describe the cleaning process that must be followed in open vegetable, fish and meat markets?
The cleaning process is a simple one. Any surface that comes in contact with food needs to be cleaned and disinfected at the beginning and end of each day, and at any time when it is contaminated. The frequency of cleaning and disinfection must be increased if necessary based on the type of food and the expected levels of contamination.
The cleaning process must include removal of all dirt and debris with a cleaning agent followed by a disinfection process to remove any pathogens from the surface.
What are the requirements by Dubai Municipality regarding hygiene and cleaning in these markets?
The Food Safety Department has published an elaborate Food Code with the requirements related to food safety. We also have the Person in Charge program that particularly targets business managers and owners. There is a lot of emphasis on keeping the work area as well as the surrounding areas clean and hygienic. We require:
• Food areas to be kept clean at all times, free of dirt and any other contaminants
• Keep the food contact surfaces clean, and disinfected
• Waste to be removed frequently
• Use of Dubai Municipality approved cleaning and disinfecting agents
How is it ensured that the food being sold in the markets has not spoilt, especially during peak summers?
There are specific requirements for storage in the Food Code. It depends on the type of the food. As a general rule, all perishable foods are required to be refrigerated.
In the case of vegetables and fruits, the food establishment has to sort and remove any products that have been bruised or damaged. When stored at appropriate temperature, spoilage can be reduced significantly.
How does Dubai Municipality monitor these markets?
We have a separate unit of inspection that inspects and monitors the market. They are based in the market and they conduct frequent inspections there.
What are the cleaning chemicals/materials that can be used? Are they Eco-friendly and safe?
The businesses can use any product that has been approved by Dubai Municipality (Public Health and Safety Dept). These products are verified against internationally recognized standards. Businesses have to use chemicals based on the recommendation of the manufacturer.
What are the challenges faced in maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the open food markets. How are they overcome?
A major challenge is that there are many common access areas and movement of people. This hinders cleaning processes. The fact that some areas are open is also a challenge.
With regard to human factors, we also see many issues with food handlers not taking adequate measures to ensure cleanliness. We also have issues with some businesses not following the requirements.
How have the hygiene practices in open markets evolved during the past few years?
We have come a long way in the last decade or so. There have been significant improvements in both infrastructure as well as practices.
In addition, it is also important to mention the Produce Safety campaign that aims on raising awareness among fruits and vegetable traders, food establishments, and consumers on the proper ways of handling and dealing with fresh produce.
This campaign also aims to enhance the overall food safety practices to ensure fruits and vegetables are safe to be consumed especially when they are raw.
What is the way forward?
The Food Safety Department is focused on training food business owners and managers. In addition to improving food traceability to trace products, back to the source of origin.