BEIRUT: While the recent discovery and confiscations of expired food products has put the nation in a frenzy, peeved restaurant owners are fighting to put things in perspective.
“The way [the spoiled meat] was reported by the [media] was scaremongering,” Ziad Kamel, the founder/CEO of The Alleyway Group and the Treasurer for the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, told The Daily Star.
Kamel cites one report in particular aired on the Kalam an-Nas show hosted by Marcel Ghanem on LBC TV that highlighted the lack of food safety and hygiene in Lebanon. “He didn’t show one decent restaurant,” said Kamel. “Isn’t part of being a journalist showing both sides of the story?”
To put the fiasco into perspective, Kamel said that a comparison should be made between the 185 tons of expired meat discovered by authorities, and the consumption of 10,000 tons of meat daily in Lebanon.
Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said the yearly consumption of meat by the Lebanese ranges between 360,000 and 400,000 tons.
Kamel argued that the discovery of spoiled meat isn’t unique to Lebanon. “Rotten meat is found everywhere, New York, D.C., London.”
While Kamel acknowledged that there were certain places in Lebanon that may not handle their meat properly, he was adamant that “most respectable restaurants have a system in place to stop bad produce from entering the establishment.”
Most companies hire outside contractors that inspect everything from the level of cleanliness under a refrigerator to the technique of how employees wash their hands.
Despite the thorough precautions, the damage on the image of Lebanese restaurants has already been done.
According to a member of the administration for a popular restaurant in Downtown Beirut, the rumors have negatively affected sales and pushed more people toward “eating salads.”
“People are afraid to go to restaurants and it’s affecting tourism,” said the administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
She maintained that her establishment meets all legal and hygienic requirements. She also feels the responsibility for the widespread panic lies not just with the media but also with the politicians.
“They want to keep people busy with their daily lives and away from politics,” she said, adding that the reason she preferred the company not to be named was that they might become the target of politicians’ ire as a result of her comments.
“[The food scare] is exaggerated. All the meat they found was dumpsters filled with rotten meat that would have been dumped anyway.”
Kamel disagreed on the idea of it being a political ploy, “Lebanese love a conspiracy theory, but I don’t think it was done to avert attention [from the political situation].”
Kamel did lament though that the system for food safety and hygiene inspection in Lebanon was flawed, citing a complicated system without a clear mandate.
Pointing to the multitude of government offices providing different, and often contradicting, guidelines for restaurants to follow, he quipped, “Too many chefs spoil a broth.”
Speaking last week at the opening of the regional hospitality, food and beverages services expo Horeca 2012, Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud acknowledged there had been “unintentional mistakes committed in recent days over the scandal of spoiled food.”
Abboud described the scandal as a “crime against the Lebanese people” as well as touristic venues “who work around the year to develop their techniques and kitchens to reach world standards,” and said the issue needed to be resolved.
He stressed it was unacceptable that some offenders should ruin the reputation of other venues.
While a number of establishments have been affected, Kamel said that the strict regulations his and other top quality restaurants abide by assure him that meat is safe to eat. “I feed my daughter in my restaurant. If the owner feels comfortable they must be doing something right.”