Tourism officials led a seminar on food safety for restaurants in the southern suburbs of Beirut Wednesday, as the ministry kicks off a series of courses to alleviate some of country’s food handling problems ahead of the tourism season.
Chefs and restaurant owners from across the southern suburbs filled the Tourism Ministry’s glass hall to learn about food storage and how to purchase quality meat. The session involved basic sanitary information, with advice such as “store raw materials off the floor in closed boxes or containers or bags,” but it is a baseline of food knowledge that the ministry hopes to spread across the country.
“We are going to do the same information sessions for more groups,” said Nada Sardouk, the director general of the Tourism Ministry. “To have the same knowledge for all people working in restaurants.” Sardouk said that before the summer tourism season starts, she plans on leading instruction seminars for restaurant owners from all parts of the country, and expects to reach about 500 people in total.
“We need them to know that we are not only a ministry to exercise oversight and issue penalties – we need them to know we are in a partnership, and we want to improve our services together,” Sardouk said. “It will be a good start and it’s going to continue.”
The food industry has been shaken by a number of quality scandals in the past weeks, most alarmingly when tons of bad meat were discovered marinating in wine to be resold to the public. The increased scrutiny of the food industry has turned up other infractions across the country involving medicine.
Government ministers have played down the extent of the spoiled food problems, but food and health officials have recently stepped up efforts to better control food quality. Many people remain unconvinced, and a number of cities have seen a decrease in meat purchases, while the prices of vegetarian staples such as grain have risen.
Wednesday’s session discussed basic food preparation practices for items such as shawarma and grilled meats, and ministry officials distributed basic food sanitary checklists for employees and managers to run through. The emphasis was on simplicity.
“We try to have a common language,” Sardouk said. “We are trying to make it easy.” Tourism officials reached a wide range of people at the Beirut session. One experienced chef asked for photos of the food advice to include in his kitchen for his workers.
The information was entirely new for 17-year-old Hani Fares, who works at a sandwich shop in Haret Hreik. “Everything was helpful,” Fares said. “I learned a lot.”