(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
Working Hand in Hand to Keep Food Safe
The man is tasked with an important role, one that is amplified when the Geylang Serai Bazaar (GSB) - the biggest Ramadan Fair in Singapore and a centre of attraction for Hari Raya festivities - comes around every year.
With more than 150 cooked food stalls at the bazaar, it is a monumental task in ensuring all stallholders maintain proper food hygiene.
Zalie’s work starts before the bazaar. He has to carefully plan his surveillance efforts and this needs good rapport and collaboration with the organiser, The People's Association and Wisma Geylang Serai, on the setup of stalls and putting in place basic hygiene facilities, as well as CCTV cameras.
He also works with other government agencies such as the Singapore Police Force and Ministry of Manpower to ensure food stall licensees do not employ illegal or unregistered food handlers.
This year, no arrests on foreign food handlers were made so far.
He emphasises, “This would not be possible without the support and co-ordination of the organisers and various stakeholders”.
Tool #1 Keen Eye
After almost ten years into the job, Zalie has developed an eye for hygiene lapses. He looks out for a few common irregularities. For example, placing food on the floor; handling food with bare hands; and food not displayed in a proper food showcase; among others.
He could also easily pick out unregistered food handlers.
“From experience, there are a few tell-tale signs. These include efforts to consistently avoid the CCTV camera, and wearing a surgical mask to avoid recognition even though the working condition is warm and humid.”
“If I spot a new face at the stall one or two weeks into the bazaar, alarm bells start ringing.”
However, he does not just look out for irregularities.
If he spots something that’s done well, he takes a photo and makes a note of the stall. For example, he notices that a satay stall has installed a hood to extract fumes from the satay grill, thereby minimising grease and grime. He goes into the stall and chats with the food stall owner, encouraging him to continue with the good practice.
An Important Job
In 2010, Zalie was assigned to the South East Regional Office’s hygiene section. Six years later, he went on to manage the GSB.
Tool #2 CCTV + Bodycam
This is the third year that CCTVs are deployed at GSB. With 60 CCTV cameras installed, Zalie and his team can easily monitor the food stalls from SFA’s satellite office at Wisma Geylang Serai.
“These CCTVs are our eyes. They have proven to be effective, not only to deter and catch errant licensees, but also to spot good food hygiene practices for training purposes.”
Bodycams are also used during inspections.
“We turn on the bodycams when we inspect the stalls or issue a summons. Footages collected may be used for further investigation where necessary.”
Decreasing Number of Offences
Zalie feels that this year’s GSB is better organised as the organiser (WGS) has put in efforts to create a lively and community-oriented ambience.
The hygiene conditions have also improved significantly, thanks to joint efforts from both WGS and SFA. So far, enforcement numbers have dropped by almost 50% compared to last year.
“This means that food stalls licensees, many of whom are regular vendors at GSB, understand the importance of food hygiene, and have taken steps to ensure they comply with the Food Hygiene Regulations.”
Tool #3 Confidence
Zalie feels it is important to possess confidence in the job. It takes a self-assured person to approach and tell a food stall licensee that he or she had committed a food hygiene-related offence and may receive a summons.
“Nobody likes to be the guy to deliver the bad news. But this is our job. We should always do the right thing.”
Zalie continues, “Empathy kicks in when you realise that the food stalls are just trying to do business. However, there can never be a substitute for food safety. Knowing that consumers can eat with peace of mind motivates me to do my job well.”
“I have faith that the bazaar is doing better, be it in food hygiene or other aspects. I bring my family to the bazaar every year to eat and soak in the atmosphere. It’s an annual family affair!”