The idea of making names of eateries that flout health regulations more widely known by publishing them in local newspapers is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP), an official has said.
Under Qatar’s recently updated food law, the MMUP is now allowed to name and shame eateries on its website. But many residents have complained that the list is difficult to find, and excludes non-Arabic speakers.
In response to public pressure to make it easier to know which restaurants, cafes and food shops have broken health and safety laws, an MMUP spokesman said changes are being considered.
According to the Peninsula, MMUP spokesman Umer Al Yafei acknowledged that the ministry is restricted in how it can share the names of erring outlets, but added that media outlets were welcome to disseminate the information based on what was published on Baladiya’s official site.
So far, MMUP has only been posted that information in Arabic, although basic details are sometimes shared in English on a Twitter account that said it is affiliated with the government.
— Baladiya (@Baladiya1) June 20, 2014
Qatar’s food law was tightened earlier this year to include tougher penalties for those who violate safety regulations.
— Baladiya (@Baladiya1) June 12, 2014
Under Law No. 4 of 2014, jail time of up to one year and fines of up to QR15,000 can be levied against anyone found selling expired food or food that is unsuitable or harmful for human consumption.
In addition to empowering Baladiya to name restaurants and cafes on its website, changes to Law No. 8 of 1990 include:
- An initial 60-day closure for violations – twice the previous limit of 30 days for a first offense;
- A reduction in the length of time to appeal, down from 15 days to 10; and
- A statement that the “violator” – presumably, the outlet’s owner – must bear the cost of the closure of the restaurant.
The law also gives officials at the Ministry of Environment the power to close food outlets for the first time. Previously, this could only be done by the MMUP and the Supreme Council of Health.
In April, a small bakery in Al Wakrah was the first eatery to be named on Baladiya’s website for selling expired food.
According to Baladiya’s website, at least eight restaurants have been closed temporarily in Qatar so far this month, including a Cafe Vergnano in Al Maamoura, which was shut down for 10 days.
The restaurant was found to have food that was not fit for human consumption.
Meanwhile, the MMUP has been collaborating with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Economy and Trade to do spot-checks and raids on cafes, restaurants and food shops, particularly in the run-up to and during Ramadan, when many people are preparing special meals for family, friends and neighbors to celebrate the end of fasting.
The ministry also uses Twitter to encourage people to report their own complaints from eateries:
4 things needed, when u report a violation of #Food_law . DM us: 1-your contact No 2-Name of eatery. -and keep these 2 3-sample 4-invoice
— Baladiya (@Baladiya1) June 19, 2014
— Baladiya (@Baladiya1) June 16, 2014
Al Yafei is reported to have said that photos, tweets and messages from the public are often the starting point of an investigation into an eating establishment.