The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

Introduction: Food safety poses an obsessive issue for the consumer since the outbreak of varied types of food-borne illness some of which are fatal. Threats such as agrochemical and hormonal residue, Salmonella, Genetically modified food (GM) and residues from antibiotic food have invaded the countries. Poor food handling is the main factor of illness and different health organisations play a key role in reducing diseases. (Birch & Parker, 1984) In Saudi Arabia, the food is controlled by several organisations where the municipality contributes highly to reduce food contamination during processing; other organisations render quality assurance and animal welfare. Over a period of three decades, the food was only controlled by the municipality. Then different organisations were established for example, the Saudi Food and Drug administration SFDA in 2003. (SDFA, 2011) Despite the vigorous efforts by the Saudi government to improve food safety in the country, massive food poisoning was recorded during the last decade. According to the Ministry of health, 22233 food poisoning cases were recorded over the last 10 years, 38% of which were a result of consuming contaminated chicken. Moreover, the centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) estimated approximately 4000 deaths and 5 million illnesses as a result of consuming contaminated food products with bacterial pathogens particularly animal products. (Schmidt & Rodrick, 2003) In order to reduce food borne illnesses, an accurate food control system must be applied, and which should encompass implicit legislation for handling food based on the ‘farm to fork’ approach, intensive inspection of food and examining foodstuff in the laboratory for harmful substances. The purpose of this report is to evaluate the efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia based on five main elements illustrated as follows; firstly, food control management, legislation, inspection and audit, official food control laboratories and finally, food safety and quality information.

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

1- Food Control management: Foods need to be controlled during the production process. Legislation plays a major role in both general and specific control of food against its being infected by microbes and other harmful agents. This control comprise hygiene standards, food additives such as

preservatives and artificial sweetener and reducing the chemical contamination, for instance, heavy metals and pesticide. Food control starts with the production of raw materials until presentation of the final product Food producers demand the quality of raw materials to be performed within well defined and specific ranges. Therefore, varied tools to control the food should be applied such as good agricultural practice (GAP) and Hazard Analysis of Critical Control points (HACCPs). (Selwyn, 1990) In Saudi Arabia, food control is distributed across different governmental ministries and several agencies either internationally or locally. Each organisation undertakes individual and different duties. For example, municipalities inspect the local processed food and general hygiene, whereas Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SDFA) inspects the imported food in terms of quality. However, the organisations of Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs MOMERA, Saudi Food and Drug Administration SFDA, Ministry of Agriculture MOA and Ministry of Commerce MOC play a distinct role in controlling the food. Other organisations have assistant roles in food control such as the Saudi Arabia Standards Organization SASO and Ministry of Health MOH. However, every organisation has responsibilities and duties in controlling the food. For example, MOMERA has issued 49 regulatory lists which regulate the processing of food in local restaurants and industries. Figure (1) shows a flow diagram of these organisations and schedule (1) explains their task and duties.

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia Mandatory Standards

Voluntary Standards

(Aarab Gulf Cooperation Council GCC)

Main Authorities




Assistant Authorities

(MOH) Figure (1) shows organisations that involved in3 controlling food and its duties in Saudi Arabia Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia Schedule (1) shows different organisations function that involved in food control in KSA:

Ministry of Agriculture (SOA) • • • Observing the use of agrochemical on vegetable products. Measuring hormonal residue in food from animal origin. Estimating the risk assessment that could pose from radioactive and heavy metals and measuring its residues in food products. Prohibit importing food products and animals from country that is contagiously infected. (MOA, 2011) • • • • •

Ministry of Municipality (MOMERA) Undertake food hygiene and inspection of food that is processed locally. Regulate establishing a new health shops e.g. restaurants and supermarket. Monitoring food handling between food producers to ensure that health requirement is met. Examine the processed food microbiologically to ensure whether is fit for human consumption. Ensure that staffs have a basic background in food hygiene and safety commensurate with their activity. (MOMERA, 2011)

Saudi Food and Drug Administration (SDFA) • • • Examine the imported food in terms of safety and quality. Ensure that the imported food is accredited by international health organisation. Monitoring whether the food standards commensurate with Saudi codex and standard. (SDFA, 2011)

Shared responsibility

Saudi Arabia Standards Organization (SASO)
• • • • Harmonising the international standards that issued by Codex Alimentarius with Saudi Codex taking into account Islamic rules. Carrying out a research to ensure appropriate standards, and suggest solution to various problem of quality. Monitoring whether the food is coincide to Saudi codex and standard.
Issuing of the standards for goods and services. (SASO, 2011)

Ministry of Health (MOH) • • • • Assist Municipality MOMERA to do field survey of food poisoning cases. Contribute in issuing a report about public health in terms of food safety. Guiding people about the possible hazard of contaminated food and right way of handling food. Treat infected people and prohibit them from working in food processing (MOH, 2011)

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

However, distributing responsibility among these ministries could marginally affect the quality of food control management and it would result in overlapping of duties.

2- Food legislation: Food legislation involves setting up rules for production, processing and trading of foodstuffs in order to protect the consumer against food-borne disease, as well as regulating the food handling between the supplier and the producer. All countries have followed procedures to ensure safety of food for the consumer and to control the spread of the infectious disease that could be from animal sources. (Heijden et al., 1999) In Saudi Arabia, food legislation is proposed by the different Ministries such as MOMERA, SDFA and MOA, and must be agreed by the Saudi Council of Ministers SCM, conducted by the King of Saudi Arabia, before applying it. A majority of legislation and regulatory standards have been adopted from international health organisations such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission CAC, World Health Organisation WHO, Food Agricultural Organisation FAO and Food and Drug Administration FDA. These comply with Saudi’s standards commensurate with the country’s culture taking into account Islamic rules. Municipality has permission to regulate food handling particularly those foods which are processed locally. It has produced 49 regulatory lists comprising the requirements of processing food for locations such as restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, markets and snack food industries. The SDFA regulates imported food in terms of safety and quality and set up requirements of food labelling. The SASO receives an international regulatory codex of food from the CAC, and ensures it complies with the Saudi standard and codex.

3- Food inspection and audit: A- Food Inspection: Saudi Municipality MOMERA is the principal authority responsible for inspecting foods that have been processed inside the country, and it has the right to decide whether the foods are fit for human consumption or not. Furthermore, it has the power to withdraw and recall the products from sale and close the shops if there is a breach of the law. MOMERA inspectors undertake a random inspection visit to food establishments with concerns about food safety
Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali 5

The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

presented to the consumer, and impose a fine on the shops that do not comply with the regulation. There are different inspectors with different qualifications and duties (MOMERA, 2011)  Health inspectors: The majority of inspectors in Saudi Arabia are public health inspectors who have been awarded a diploma certification from a health institution with short courses in food hygiene. They are obliged to inspect food shops, in terms of general hygiene, validity of the products and obtain food samples for laboratory examination. The inspection visit should be

documented as well as reported to the manager of the health department by the end of the day. However, a lack of commitment from the inspectors would lead to an unrepresentative sample for laboratory analysis. Most inspection visits are of a poor standard as well as activities made during the visit that may not have been recorded. (Al-Kandari & Jukes, 2009)

 Veterinarian: The veterinarians carry out examinations on food of animal origin such as all types of meat after slaughter, sea food products and pre-mortem examinations of animals before slaughter. They have a right to cull any food unfit for consumption. Moreover, they undertake a routine inspection of public abattoirs to ensure that all hygiene requirements are met. However, occasionally they are obliged to apply new regulations that have been adopted internationally such as HACCPs even without training. They need to be constantly updated in new techniques and tools in food control and safety because a lack of proper training may lead to poor standards of inspection. (MOMERA, 2011)

B- Auditing: In Saudi Arabia, some food industries particularly these which produce more than one product apply a systemic evaluation to assess the quality of food manufacturers against standards that have been contractually agreed between suppliers and producers. For example Al Rabie industry has applied an auditing system to assure the quality of its products. (Rabie, 2007)

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

4- Official food control the laboratories : More than 20 official laboratories have been established in different areas of the country. These labs are very well equipped with modern and high quality instruments. Every lab has specific functions and has been sorted according to individual Ministry duties such as observing quality, food hygiene and commercial adulteration. However, the majority of these labs lack internationally recognised accreditation. Recently, the SDFA has prepared qualified laboratory staff by sponsoring them worldwide in different specializations. It is true that the quality of these labs may improve, but the SDFA should take into account the lack of experience of these staff. A more satisfactory solution would be to utilize foreign operations in these labs to take advantage of their experience in this field.

A- The Laboratory of quality control: The government has operated 9 labs responsible for examining imported food in terms of safety and quality. These labs are located in the country’s port, directed by the SDFA and receive instructions and regulations applied in the field. The types of test are: Microbial test against different type of bacteria and mycotoxins. Quality assurance test, to ensure it is commensurate with labelled standards Chemical tests for detecting heavy metals and toxicology.

B- Municipal laboratory: Recently, the government has operated 6 labs responsible for examining food which is prepared locally from restaurants and coffee shops; they decide whether it is fit for human consumption directed by the Ministry of Municipality. The types of test are: Examining the processed food and water sources microbiologically. Examining susceptible meat products after slaughtering. Analysing samples that have been received from other governmental departments.
Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali 7

The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

C- Agricultural laboratories: The Ministry of Agriculture laboratories are located in the main regions of the country and deal with pre-mortem examinations of animals such as bovine, poultry and aquarium to ensure that they are safe in terms of hormonal residues and antibiotics, as well as analysing the plant products against agrochemical residue.

5- Food safety and quality information: As result of distributing responsibilities among several Ministries, lack of information about food safety and quality is likely to occur. Recently, it is considerably more difficult for any Ministry with shared responsibility, to gain access to information from another Ministry. One of the possible consequences an unsuitable plan applied to improve food safety in the country. A lack of commitment from inspectors to provide accurate information would affect the quality of information.

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

Conclusion: It can be concluded that distributing responsibilities of food control among several ministries could affect the quality of food control and management, and would result in overlapping duties. The municipality plays an essential role in controlling the food that is processed locally; on the other hand the SFDA has potentially double the qualified staff and equipment compared with MOMERA. The government inspectors face a challenge after they have been obliged to apply a new regulation and tools acquired from international organisations. Greater success is assured if the inspectors are constantly trained and updated in new technology and information. However, urgent steps should be taken to improve the efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia. More information would be given if the researcher had adequate time and an unlimited word count. I would suggest further research to find effective solutions to develop the food control system in Saudi Arabia.

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


The efficiency of the food control system in Saudi Arabia

Al-Kandari, D. & Jukes, D., 2009. A situation analysis of the food control system in Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Food Control, 20, pp.1112-18. Australia, A., n.d. Food Safety an audit system. Canberra: ANZFA. Birch, G. & Parker, K., 1984. Control of food quality and analysis. London: Elsevier. Heijden, K., Younes, M., Fishbein, L. & Sanford, M., 1999. International food safety handbook. New York: Bsel. MOA, 2011. Agricultural task. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 08 February 2011]. MOH, 2011. Missions and Vision. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 06 February 2011]. MOMERA, 2011. Environmental health department. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 08 February 2011]. Rabie, A., 2007. Achievements. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 08 February 2011]. Roberts, H., 1981. Food safety. New York: Wiley. SASO, 2011. SASO task. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 06 February 2011]. Schmidt, R. & Rodrick, G., 2003. Food safety handbook. Canada: Wiley. SDFA, 2011. Saudi Food and Drug Authority. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2011]. Selwyn, J., 1990. Food control - the way ahead. Food control, 1, pp.9-11.

Author: Alawi, Mohammed Ali


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