UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Dubai Municipality’s Food Safety Department has revealed that its digital initiative, ‘My Food’, is ensuring the safety of 3 billion meals, 8 million tonnes of food annually consumed by residents and tourists.
According to the department, more than 300,000 people within the city help transport, store, prepare, cook, serve and deliver food to the doorsteps of consumers. More than 200,000 food handlers prepare over three billion meals that are served to 20 million tourists and 3.3 million residents.
“‘My Food’ is the world’s first digital transformation journey by any regulatory authority to enhance food safety,” Sultan Ali Al Taher, the Director of the department told Gulf News.
He informed that the municipality’s preventive approach to food safety involves ensuring that over 20,000 food businesses in the city produce safe food by having relevant permits prior to starting their operations, employ food handlers who are suitably trained and certified, and use food transportation vehicles that are safe and approved.
“‘My Food’ initiative has digitalized the complete process of food permit management, training management and certification and food transportation vehicle safety management system. The fully-integrated and traceable system has not only reduced the burden of effort to obtain permits and certifications impacting more than 300,000 beneficiaries, but has also made data-driven decision-making effective,” said Al Taher.
Officials said the initiative provided an opportunity to empower the community to effectively participate in enhancing the compliance of food establishments with food safety regulations, the availability of food safety ratings for eateries and food item registration information via the Dubai Municipality smart application.
The feature on the Dubai Municipality app, that lets consumers check the food safety ratings, gives them the power to make informed choices about the safety and hygiene levels at food outlets.
Digitized training management
All of the more than 200,000 food handlers in Dubai are formally trained on food safety and behaviour all the time, Al Taher added.
Previously, the entire process was carried out manually through document verification and approval with all the information maintained in a paper-based system.
The transformation of this service includes creating digital identities for people, converting manual transactions into digital transactions, converting manual approvals to algorithm and rule-based automated transactions that can provide instant decisions, and creating digital contracts and certifications that are traceable.
“The initiative includes providing an e-learning platform that will eventually enable transition to a digital education programme for food safety. The data analytical system will be linked to the food inspection programme, which will allow the prevention of violations by predictive training,” he added.
The objective is to make sure that anyone working in the food industry gets direct information about anything related to food safety in Dubai, without having to undergo in-person classes. The course module is designed in such a way that training material is customized as per the requirements of specific food outlets or categories of food establishments.
If there is any new update on food import regulations, a training module can be instantly updated on the system. If there is any outbreak of egg-related salmonella infection, for instance, then there will be another training module that teaches restaurants on how to take precautions.
Similarly, when an inspector reports a violation regarding pests on the premises, the restaurant will automatically get instructions on how to tackle the situation.
Digitized food transportation system
More than 20,000 food vehicles and 15,000 bikes are on Dubai’s roads, transporting food. Each vehicle needs a food permit, which used to take up to ten hours for issuance, with a 12-step vehicle approval process managed by 12 different testing centres.
“The permit now takes less than two hours, including the planning, driving and testing time using our digitalized Food Watch platform. We issued a series of changes in process integration and offered a paperless system for the vehicle testing inspectors to approve the vehicles instantly,” said Al Taher.
Another critical step towards boosting food safety was the change in the annual compliance verification model to a real-time compliance-monitoring model by enabling food businesses to report noncompliant vehicles instantly on the system.
“Today, we can predict what vehicles need to be tested more and what brand of vehicles are prone to food temperature deviations — a true data-driven system,” noted Al Taher.