Lebanese consumers learn they are eating shit

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A man eats a hamburger at a McDonald's branch in Lebanon, which has recently come under fire from the Health Ministry. Al-Akhbar

Published Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“They are feeding us shit,” literally – not figuratively – as informed by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who revealed during a press conference on Tuesday November 11, that samples taken from restaurants and supermarkets across Lebanon contained traces of “human excrement and sewage water.”

Abu Faour’s statement was the first “formal” acknowledgement by the Health Ministry of a serious case of food contamination in the country. It came after years of neglect by the state’s administrations towards their responsibility to protect the people and their health.

It seems that elites within the system were actively covering for merchants to the extent that the head of the Lebanese Traders Association, Nicolas Chammas, has often said that merchants “are obeyed and they obey no one.”

The public was not totally oblivious to this truth. The media, reports by the Consumers’ Association, and a number of experts and academics have recently uncovered hundreds of scandals, facts, complaints, and crimes committed by well known merchants and companies.

However, these criminals were never brought to justice, and the state did not shut down their businesses, nor did it impose restrictions on the way they deliver and handle food. The lack of action drove many to despair, which would explain the muted response to the bombshell dropped by Abu Faour yesterday. Most seem certain that the case will be closed soon, and nothing will be actually resolved.

Abu Faour mentioned 38 branches of restaurants, supermarkets, and butchers, located outside Beirut, and warned consumers about their products. Yet, the minister probably realizes that the owners will get away with their violations under the protection of the corrupt ruling system in Lebanon.

According to Abu Faour, these establishments are selling food that failed to meet basic health standards, with some of the products contaminated with salmonella, e. coli, and obligate aerobes.

The preliminary list revealed by the minister include “famous” and “international” franchises popular among Lebanese, especially children and young adults such as McDonald’s, Kababji, Spinneys, TSC Mega, Hawa Chicken, Hallab, and many others.

He further explained that the ministry received the tests’ results four days ago and that many samples were taken from restaurants and supermarkets inside Beirut, but those results are yet to be issued, which in turn generated speculation that the outcome will probably turn out even worse than the current report.

How did Abu Faour reach these results? And why did he decide to announce them?

He said that he “dispatched inspection teams working for the Health Ministry, over the past 20 days, to investigate a number of establishments and examine food products that are being sold to the people, in order to make sure that they meet required health, hygiene, and cleanliness standards.”

“Samples were taken from various food products to be examined for quality at the laboratories of the Agriculture Ministry, the department of Scientific and Agricultural Research, and the Industrial Research laboratory,” the minister explained.

He added, “The campaign targeted 1,005 establishment across Lebanon; 400 in Mount Lebanon, 200 in the North, 250 in the Beka’a, 200 in the South, and 50 in Nabatiyeh” and it included “bakeries, restaurants, supermarkets, butcheries, sweets shops, artesian wells, and springs.”

The minister further noted that, “3,600 samples were examined, and the tests were run on all kinds of meat, bread, cheese, and sweets such as ashta (clotted cream) and cream.”

Abu Faour flagged other violators that were not directly mentioned on the list, including al-Natour butcher shop, which was previously closed down temporarily for selling rotten meat. Al-Natour was also accused of selling expired Brazilian meat and throwing meat products on the ground, in total disregard of hygienic standards.

Abu Faour also revealed that the ministry “raided” the shop on Saturday night to take the samples, as to avoid the owners’ attempts to switch the meat, indicating that the results will come out tomorrow along with other samples taken from restaurants and establishments inside Beirut.

The minister additionally noted that the Tanmiya Food Retailer in the Bekaa Valley has been violating health standards by changing the production dates printed on their products by three months.

Other violations revealed by Abu Faour included establishments functioning without permits, having spiders and flies hovering around meat refrigerators that had temperatures set above the maximum required to preserve meat, having filth and overused blackened oil, as well as using rusty utensils and knives to cut and preserve meat, placing toilets in close proximity to the kitchen, and putting food on top of garbage bags.

The most alarming discovery in the report was that fecal matter was found in some of the samples.

“The Lebanese citizen’s food is not only dipped in sweat, but also in diseases, microbes, and has very limited state supervision,” Abu Faour said, announcing that warnings will be sent to the restaurants violating the law and citations will be issued against them, since the inspection department at the Health Ministry can act as the judicial police.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abu Faour acknowledged that citations have already been issued against the violating establishments and that he will further ask Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk to order local governors and municipalities to close departments that do not meet the standards of human consumption in these establishments until they rectify their situation.

Addressing the owners, Abu Faour said, “Those who want to stand against us should resort to the courts.”

In his press conference, Abu Faour did not only defame the violating establishment but also his own ministry, revealing that a number of doctors in regions across Lebanon have been submitting fake reports, in which restaurants and supermarket are described as “good and acceptable” without actually inspecting them.

He stated that the ministry has a health preservation department formed by a large number of inspectors, health monitors, and doctors working across Lebanon, who should be making routine visits to inspect the establishments that sell food products in order to ensure that they meet basic health standards, yet unfortunately this rarely happens.

For his part, Chairman of Consumers Lebanon, Zouheir Berro said the Health Ministry analysis had “proved the obvious since our own information suggests that cleanness is an exception while [food] contamination is the rule.”

“This has been going on for a long time and what we are witnessing today is the natural outcome of the lack of a food safety law and the absence of mechanisms that ensure the production of safe food,” Berro added.

“Supervision is only the end of the chain, while production is the basis. We should focus on the source of the food, like the Beirut slaughterhouse and farms, among others.”

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Thanks for the write-up. This is, of course, horrible.

However, some essential information has been omitted from the story (unintentionally, I assume) that masks the people who should be responsible, and that piece of information would be provided by answering this question:

WHERE is the contamination coming from?

If it is coming from water sources, for instance, it is really a state issue rather than a private sector one. Etc.

Would love to know the answer.

Thanks.

Have you been to Lebanon since Taif? There is no difference between the state and private sectors anymore -- look what what's happening in Daliya, or Sanaieh gardens. This food thing is probably a combination of liberal globalization and poor/lazy/corrupt state oversight, the same exact problem that is causing the water crisis.

Will al-akhbar demand similar investigation of hizbullah-affiliated food suppliers in the dahiyya al-jannoubia? The latter is home to the most unsanitary conditions in all of Lebanon. Or will your newspaper turn a blind eye?

R Jamil

So you even see a serious health issue as a sectarian one.

SHAME SHAME SHAME INSTEAD OF REVEALING THIS LET HIM DO SOMETHING FOR GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!that4s all we needed in lebanon §§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§

What exactly was the point of your comment? To show an image of discrimination and prejudice to one group in order to take the light away from the real issue at hand? Yes, that particular area has horrendous sanitation in some of it's restaurants, but to state such an absolute statement as it is "home to the most unsanitary conditions in all of Lebanon" is far fetched and takes a great deal of credit away from your argument.

See what you did? Now, instead of people thinking and being concerned about their safety, you've made this into a political debate. Congratulations, a true Lebanese is what you seem to be. Now, shoo-shoo...go start other little fights in your community, tire-burning, motor blockade, raunchy posts and messages...leave important issues like healthcare aside.

What does this have to do with hizballah? And, how can you say it is the most unsanitary? If you want to express your hate for shia just say it, don't come and hide behind a stupid comment like this. The sectarianism and hate in this country is more disgusting then eating shit covered food.

what a narrow minded comment. Even when it is about revealing corruption it has to also be applied to hizballah or else it is ill motivated. I doubt you shop in hizballah controlled areas, so it is better for you to not say a word... Maybe they all die of food poisoning. Ma heik?

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