Food Poisoning in Saudi Arabia


Internationally as well as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, food poisoning has become one of the major health problems. Food poisoning comes about because of consumption of food that is contaminated with a variety of causes. This group of illnesses is mainly caused by infective organisms particularly the toxins and chemical contaminants of metallic and organic nature, produced by the organisms.( Al-Turki KA, El-Taher , Bushai, 1998 p 584). In the developing world, including Saudia Arabia, the increase of food poisoning incidents and public health concerns regarding the safety of food are on the rise. Contamination of food that has led to food poisoning, in the recent years has been attributed to contamination by bacterial pathogens, protozoa and enteric viruses.( Al-Ahmadi KS, Al-Zahrani AS, El-Bushra ,1996 p 14). In addition, the use of biological agents that may be used in bio-terrorism through contamination of food and water are also an emerging concern with regard to the increase in food poisoning incidences.

This context will seek to shed light on the epidemiological patterns that have brought about the issue of food poising in Saudi Arabia. It will focus on the preventability of the public health issue at the local setting and the responsibility of the health system. The review will also highlight on the importance of reporting outbreaks to the health system and the repercussions that come about with the negligence of such information. From the review, an analysis between different researches regarding food poisoning will be highlighted.

Research Studies

Several research studies have been carried out in Saudi Arabia for purposes of determining the causes of the rise of food poisoning outbreak in the region. Such studies date back from the early 1960’s to explain the causes of such outbreaks as well as the prevention of the outbreaks extension as well as recurrence.

In 1967, four explosive outbreaks that were characterized by acute food poisoning took place in the Hofuf in Saudia Arabia as well as Doha in Qatar. The research revealed that the victims of the outbreak consumed some toxic substances that was contained in the flour used to bake bread. The toxic that was contained in the flour was endrin, which had contaminated the flour whilst been transported in the ships. The endrin was stowed just above the flour. Such research was the predecessor of current research, which is based on the argument that food poisoning is as a result of stored food being poisoned whilst in storage.

Other current studies have linked the issue of food contamination that has lead to food poisoning outbreaks in Saudi Arabia especially during the Hajj season, to the lack the incompetency of food handlers. (Dablool and Al-Ghamdi, 2007).

Causes of Food Poisoning in Saudi Arabia

Food poisoning in Saudi Arabia has been attributed in a research carried out by the Ministry of Health,(2002) as being caused by the pathogen known as Staphylococcus aureus which has been responsible for 41% of the food outbreaks in Saudi Arabia in the Hajj and Makkah seasons. It is followed by Salmonella which has caused food poisoning in Saudi Arabia since 1985 and caused a total of 12 outbreaks.

According to Ministry of Health, (2003 p12), in the seasons of Hajj the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has experienced an increase in the reported cases of food poisoning that has increased from 22- 132 during the past 12 years. (This increase in the food poisoning outbreak has been reported as being caused by the increase in the number of people who come to the country from outside. In this case people of different cultures, socio-economic status and different life styles tour the country in the Hajj and Mecca seasons. In this respect, such people are exposed to food outlets that have food standards that are compromised. Therefore, they are exposed to food borne pathogens which may not be existent in their home countries. (Dablool and S. Al-Ghamdi, 2011)

Prevention of food poisoning in Saudi Arabia

Prevention of food poisoning in Saudi Arabia, should start by the preliminary step in educating the community towards the causes and the effects of food poisoning. In educating the community, the people should also be sensitized regarding the importance of personal hygiene and how the lack thereof may increase the chances of food contamination leading to food poisoning.

In prevention of food poisoning the government of Saudi Arabia may either put up strict Laws regarding the selling of food in the streets or prohibit the selling of food in the streets altogether, especially in the Hajj and Mecca seasons. (Al-Gahatani YM, Kurdi TS. 1995 p 5) This is because the outbreaks of food poisoning in Saudi Arabia, is attributed to human demographics and behavior. Many people have a tendency of taking their meals in food chains and street food vendors. However such settings are not regulated by food safety programs and thus most food is prepared unhygienic. This provides opportunity for contamination and survival of food borne pathogens.

Regulation of Food poisoning in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to reduce the incident of food poisoning it has to implement coordinated control measures in this multi proged activity. This is to be done in order to do away with the agents that bring about food poisoning, to bring about a stop to the agents transmission as well as protection of the susceptible host.( Kurdi , Kamball , Muhammad , al-Zahrani 1998 p 20). The Regulations and general measures that should be taken in Saudi Arabia should target the handlers of the food. This is because they are the main sources of infection, due to the poor handling practices that provides a breeding ground for Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureu, the leading causes of food poisoning in Saudi Arabia. Regulations should be put in place with regard to protection of the food against pests and rodents as well as insects that may bring contamination. Regulation should also address the issue of maintenance of proper sanitary facilities. Avoidance of cross contamination between foods should be among the regulations. In this respect, such regulation should be given weight by the carrying out of regular medical examinations for the food handlers. Food handlers who do not fit the standard should be sidelined and excluded from handling the food. (Ministry of Health, 2003 p12).

In addition, food poisoning may be reduced in the future by control measures that prevent the spread of the pathogens. Such measures may include the temporary exclusion of food handlers who have boils, abscesses and other lesions on parts of the body that may be in contact with the food for instance in the hands, face, and nose. They should be treated before any kind of contact with the food. Another consideration may be to reduce the time that is utilized in the handling of food from the time of preparation to the time it is served. This may include inputting the maximum time to be 4hours between preparations and serving the food. The food for the four hours should be stored in ambient temperature to avoid any type of prevent such contamination the health education programs should sensitize the general public through radios, newspapers and televisions. Other materials that may be used especially in Saudi Arabia are the Hajjis pamphlets, posters and the mobilization of health teams to actively sensitize the people.


The issue of food poisoning prevention and cause is determined by the level of hygiene that is maintained in every level of food handling. In the last three decades, there has been an increase in the expansion of fast food businesses due to a rapid increase in social-economic development as well as urbanization. Personnel that are not adequately trained in food processing and servicing run such businesses. In this case, the increase in the cases of food poisoning in Saudi Arabia has been attributed mainly by the lack of proper training and food hygiene among the food handlers. In this case the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical control Points system, (HACCP) is essential to Saudi Arabia. This is a recommendation of the world Health Organization(WHO). This program is designed to come about with the identification of the hazards that are existent in food processing. In addition it also associates the preventative measures and identification of the points of critical control. (Panisello,2000 p 5).in this case for such a system to run effectively there need for an effective record and procedure keeping system. In addition to the recording systems, the local municipalities as well as the health departments should coordinate their efforts in order to improve and strengthen the mechanisms of surveillance in case of any breach in food safety.

The Gap

In the issue of food poisoning the issue of hygiene is provided as the determining factor. However, other considerations should be thought. Among such consideration that are mostly sidelined include the issue of when are the outbreaks severe and how can this be addressed. The seasonal variation is also an important aspect of this study that should be given consideration. This season variation in the outbreak of food poisoning occurs during the months of June to August. At this time the summer holidays are underway and therefore many families across the country spent a substantial amount of time in their homes, in restaurants, canteens as well as fast food joints. In addition, this is the time tourists and other overseas guests come into the country. In this time the food demand is at its peak. The hot weather also provides optimal breeding ground for the pathogens that bring about contamination in the food. In case of the leftover food, it should be refrigerated promptly, and just before consumption, it should be reheated. In this respect, it is obvious that the major consideration in the measures to be put in place involve the aspect of legislation and to some extent mechanisms of supervision. However, the most important consideration lies in the health education of both the food handlers and the consumers. (Panisello,2000 p 5).


Al-Turki KA, El-Taher AH, Bushait SA. 1998,Bacterial Food Poisoning. Saudi Med J; 19: 581-584.

Ministry of Health. 2002, Food Poisoning Accidents during the years 1421-1422. Annual Report. Riyadh (KSA): Food Poisoning Department, Ministry of Health.

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Ministry of Health. 2003, Annual Food Poisoning Report 1422 Riyadh (KSA): Food Poisoning Department, Ministry of Health;. p. 12.

Kurdi TS, Kamball AM, Muhammad MHA, al-Zahrani MA. 1998, Manuals for worker for food poisoning accidents. Riyadh (KSA): Ministry of Health;. Vol 3 1-27.

Dablool and S. Al-Ghamdi, 2011″Enterotoxigenicity of Staphylococcus aureus Isolated from Food Handlers during Hajj Season in Saudi Arabia,” Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology, Vol. 1 No. 2, , 75-78.

Al-Gahatani YM, Kurdi TS. 1995,Food poisoning in Makkah, Hajj.

1415 H. Saudi Epidemiology Bulletin; 2: 3-5.

Panisello PJ, Rooney R, Quantick PC, Stanwell-Smith R. 2000Application of foodborne disease outbreak data in the development and maintenance of HACCP systems. Int J Food Microbiol; 59: 221-234.

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