Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Longer checklist for NEA


Teo Xuanwei,

AS THE dust settles on the worst case yet of mass food poisoning here, the gatekeeper of public health and hygiene in Singapore has vowed to act more vigilantly and firmly, to enforce higher hygiene standards.

Specifically, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will tighten its grip on committees managing temporary markets — intervening directly to correct lapses, when necessary, as opposed to playing an advisory role previously.

To dispel possible confusion in the stall-grading scheme, changes to processes will be “implemented straight away” — with decals to be issued immediately after assessments, for example.

While stressing that the existing grading scheme has “served us well for many years” and is set to stay, NEA director-general for public health Khoo Seow Poh said on Friday that linking rental rates to a stall’s grade — as mooted in a recent Today commentary — was an option to consider carefully. It could, he noted, be logistically difficult for private operators of food-premises.


Measures ahead

  • Decals to be issued immediately after grading assessment
  • NEA will intervene to correct lapses, e.g. order a shut-down for cleaning
  • Management committees must meet strict requirements (e.g. pest control arrangements) before temporary markets can be built


Hygiene and cleanliness standards in food outlets have improved over the years, said Mr Khoo, and food poisoning cases here have been relatively rare — and never as serious as the April 6 Geylang Serai Temporary Market Indian rojak debacle that claimed two lives and caused over 150 to fall ill.

Nevertheless, he noted that no matter what grade a stall has, it just takes “one or two chaps to be careless” to lead to disaster. “One incident is one too many, so we will continue to do our best,” Mr Khoo promised.

Going forward, NEA will intervene in management committees if they are unable to clean up their act.

For instance, it will order operations to cease so that the temporary market can get a thorough scrub-down, or bring in its own pest control team if the committee fails to keep vermin infestation under control. Before construction begins on temporary markets, the agency will also “set down strict requirements upfront”.

The management committees will have to state clearly the market’s cleaning regimes and pest control arrangements, among other things.

Hawkers receiving their grade decals long after assessment will also be a thing of the past. NEA officers will issue temporary decals instantly after grading; a permanent one will follow later.

Stallholders will also have to hand over their old decals and enforcement officers going on rounds will ensure displayed decals match those in their records.

This change springs from the discovery that some Geylang Serai hawkers had received their updated decals only four months after their last evaluation in December.

Refresher courses on food and personal hygiene will also be held for hawkers, said Mr Khoo. And as the public also plays an important role in maintaining hygiene standards, NEA will step up education efforts.

From WEEKEND TODAY, News – 18, 19-April-2009


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