MFDA raises concerns over poor hygiene during city-wide food inspections

Eateries and restaurants across Male’ are this month coming under city-wide inspection by the Maldives Food and Drug Authority (MFDA) for the first time in four years over hygiene standards, an area the government body claims “generally remains poor.”

Shareefa Adam, Director General for the MFDA, which forms part of the remit for the Maldives Health Ministry, told Minivan News that so far 32 premises had been inspected since the beginning of the month as part of plans to visit every registered and unregistered property before July.

At present, the MFDA said that two premises have been shut down on the basis of its latest inspections.

The inspections have been criticised by some Male-based catering groups, who claim to have been unfairly punished by MFDA officials they allege apply high-end resort standards to local businesses.

Accusations that inspectors are being too strict in their criteria was denied by the MFDA’s director general, who claimed they were using “basic” minimum hygiene standards such as cleanliness and preventing foreign materials from getting into food.

According to Adam, these standards were not fully understood by a wide number of proprietors in the capital, though any premises that were shut down could reapply to open again once they had corrected issues raised with their business.

“There is not enough training in food hygiene and we need to find ways to spread this message. For instance there are a large number of Bangladeshi workers in the food industry here and we need to find ways of communicating with them on this,” she said.

“Existing regulation is very simple and sometimes quite insufficient, so we are focused on minimum hygiene standards at present.”

Adam claimed that the month-long inspections would remain focused in Male’, before possibly being expanded to other islands at a later date. The MFDA director general said she believed that further inspections of all the catering establishments in the capital would take the entire month to complete.

“It takes quite a long time to complete these inspections as our staff numbers do not increase, yet the number of restaurants certainly does. We are looking at the standards of all food outlets, which are very poor in some places,” she claimed. “Some are not even registered with the MFDA at all and these must be closed down and then registered with us.”

Food outlet criticism

Hassan Muhaimin of Buruzu Catering Services, which was shut down this week following an MFDA inspection, alleged that the company had been punished for issues outside of the quality of its kitchens.

“We have a storage facility on the second floor of our building that is a locked room where we keep broken items and utensils. Although it was locked, the room was an issue [for inspectors],” he said.

Muhaimin said that despite some minor everyday issues in the kitchen, he felt the company had been judged mainly on the presence of materials like rat droppings in the locked storage room that had not been used in some time by the business.

“If there is someone operating a catering business downstairs, but someone else is living on another floor that isn’t being used by the business, should the company still be punished for issues on that floor? That is how I see it,” he added.

Muhaimin claimed that the store room inspected by the MFDA has since been cleaned out and the company kitchen was in the process of being refurbished, and said that Buruzu Catering Services would be hoping to appeal against the MFDA decision.

“I’m not aware of any other specific food outlets that have been closed down [during the ongoing inspections], but it is a huge blow for our company and will require some good PR plans to turn it around,” said Muhaimin. “We think it’s really unfair of the MFDA and raises questions about their own standards. For example, we purchase headgear [such as hairnets] from a company that supplies major resorts, yet [the MFDA] did not approve of them, saying they don’t cover the whole head area or the back of the neck.”

Muhaimin claimed it was his belief that the inspectors in some cases may be enacting top-range resort standards onto local companies and eateries.

Local teashop the Shabnam Café has also been closed after inspectors allegedly found rat droppings in the kitchen.

The owner complained to newspaper Haveeru that Shabnam Cafe that the droppings were not found in the cafe’s kitchen, but in a salted fish brought by an employee.