Fancy food isn’t safe food: Lebanon edition

The Daily Star reports that when Charbel quit his job recently as a quality control inspector at a catering company that owns a chain of restaurants in Beirut, he felt nothing but relief.

“It was a miserable job,” says Charbel, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. “No one listens to you … it’s not the kitchen staff, it’s the management. They don’t want to spend any money.”

Although he won’t reveal the name of the restaurant he was responsible for monitoring, Charbel describes it as a member of a five-star chain with an attitude toward food safety that is laissez-faire, to say the least.

“The refrigerators don’t work, foods get stacked on top of each other,” he says. “You have vegetables that come in, they stay in the open air for a couple of days, then the mould comes in and the worms, and when you tell them, they just pick [out] the rotten ones and throw them away but leave the rest.”

Charbel says that government inspectors would visit the kitchen, but would rarely notice the flagrant health violations that were taking place.

Asked why customers didn’t complain about cases of food poisoning, Charbel laughs. “No one suspects that a five-star restaurant would give them food poisoning,” he says.
“This is one company, but from my understanding, it’s not an isolated case. This seems to be common in Lebanon. How many people get food poisoning and don’t have enough [money] to go to the hospital?”

Zeina Kassaify, a professor at the American University of Beirut’s department of nutrition and food sciences, and president of the Lebanese Association for Food Safety, says that often, Lebanese consumers who get food poisoning from restaurants don’t report the incident.

Kassaify says that currently, there is no unified governmental system to assess and manage food safety violations. “The responsibilities are so fragmented,” she says.
“You have four or five different ministries that have responsibilities toward food safety … but when you ask whose responsibility it is to administer penalties, you won’t get a satisfactory answer. It’s so chaotic.”