MAKKAH, The Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH) has allocated SAR30 million this year to prepare two million food packs for 31,600 pilgrims during this year's hajj season, said Malaysian hajj delegation head Datuk Seri Saleh Syed Abdul Rahman. He said that even though there is an increase in the cost of raw materials, coupled with an increase in fuel prices, which also causes an increase in the cost of transportation, the cost borne by TH remains the same due to the long-term agreement signed with the food providers. 'If we look at the cost of preparing food every year, it increases because the price of raw materials goes up and if we look at it closely, some of the raw materials are imported from abroad (outside of Saudi Arabia). 'Apart from that, delivery costs also increase including taxation and the government (Saudi Arabia) has the power to determine that there are certain processes and certain facilities that need to be enhanced to improve the standard (of food preparation), causing the catering side to also c omply with and this all involves costs 'This poses challenges to TH to address, in terms of increase in costs, while at the same time, provide the best service for the pilgrims,' he told media personnel after visiting three kitchens preparing food for Malaysian pilgrims in Makkah today. He said TH screened and researched before selecting eight local catering companies with valid licences and certificates recognised by the Government of Saudi Arabia to provide nutritious and clean food for the pilgrims. The eight catering companies consist of six in Makkah, namely Al Wafa Catering, Al Salmi Catering, Nakha Alia Catering, Mohsen Mohd Al Amoudi Catering (Retaj Restaurant), Fawzy Abo Rozeyza (Makkah Kitchen) and Tadco Catering. Two more companies are in Madinah, namely Edarah Company for Hotel Management and Operation and Ahmed Mohamed Zuhdi Company for Management and Operation of Tourist Accommodation. Contract priority, he said, was given to food preparation companies that meet international standards in t erms of safety management, namely Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) which is the best practice in the food preparation industry. 'Before operating, they also go through a rigorous screening process by the Saudi Arabian government which requires them to apply through the office of the Governor of Makkah and Makkah City, the Department of Environment, enforcement offices and also need to obtain a health certificate from the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia,' he said. Syed Salleh said that at the same time, to ensure the quality of the food at the best level, TH, through the Catering Unit from TH Travel together with the Public Health Unit of the Ministry of Health (MOH) also inspected the kitchen used. It includes a physical inspection of places used such as storage areas, places to cut raw materials and food preparation areas to ensure their level of cleanliness, apart from checking drainage systems, waste management systems and equipment used. He added that as much as 3.2 tonnes of ric e was used to prepare lunch and dinner for pilgrims daily along with five tonnes of protein and 2.5 tonnes of vegetables. As for variations, TH set the catering companies involved in preparing 42 different types of dishes for lunch and dinner throughout this year's hajj season for the Muassasah hajj pilgrims. The food is then sent to the accommodation of the pilgrims in an insulating packaging, using a vehicle authorised by the authorities equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). Source: BERNAMA News Agency