(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
Meet Poh Zan Xi, whose job is all about making sure your fruits and vegetables are safe to eat!
Stationed at SFA’s southwest regional office at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (PPWC), he is part of a team that inspects imported fruits and vegetables.
Read on to find out what this Chemistry graduate does as an inspector and the tools he uses at work.
A JOINT RESPONSIBILITY
As an inspector for imported fruits and vegetables, Zan Xi’s role comprises routine and surprise inspections, surveillance and paperwork.
“We conduct physical checks of the food product for signs of spoilage, documentation checks to verify permit declaration and take samples for food safety testing.”
But it’s not possible to check everything. So how does Zan Xi decide which consignment to inspect?
“We adopt a risk-based approach to food safety, which means food that is more susceptible to food-borne diseases are subjected to more stringent checks. Importer’s past records and international food safety alerts also help us decide what to inspect.”
But he emphasises that food safety is not SFA’s role alone.
“Food can be contaminated anywhere along the supply chain, so the industry and consumers have a part to play to ensure food safety.
So please do your part - wash your fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking!”
TOOL#1 - INTEGRITY
As inspectors or enforcement officers, integrity is the most important attribute.
“We have to ensure that procedures are followed according to SOPs, maintain a firm stance and always do the right thing.”
TOOL#2 - INSPECTION BAG
Like how Doraemon reaches into his pocket of gadgets, Zan Xi does the same with his ubiquitous sling bag. This bag contains everything he needs to carry out his inspections.
There are sampling forms, seals, detained stickers, pens, markers, gloves etc. – basically a mini stationery shop.
Due to the nature of his role, Zan Xi works quietly behind the scene, even during periods of contingency.
For example, during the 2018 Australia listeriosis outbreak linked to rockmelons, Singapore recalled all rockmelons from Australia.
What members of the public did not see were Zan Xi and his team mates going to various importers’ premises within a tight timeline to check for existing stock of implicated rockmelons and getting importers to dispose them.
But not everyone understands the rationale of his work.
“For example, some in the industry may not understand why they must be responsible for recalls by removing implicated products from the shelves or provide details for traceability.
Instances like the Australia listeriosis outbreak is also why we require every consignment to be declared and accompanied by valid import permits for traceability and accountability.”
MASTER OF ALL TRADES
Although Zan Xi mainly inspects imported fruits and vegetables, he is cross trained in other areas too.
He has gone on meat inspections as well as food hygiene inspections of various hawker centres in southwestern Singapore.
“It’s interesting to be exposed to other food types, and a different job scope. Checking for hygiene lapses of hawker stalls is quite different from inspecting fruits and vegetables.”
There’s also the paperwork where he prepares materials for prosecution (mainly illegal imports) and crunches data for analysis.
TOOL#3 - AFFABILITY
Inspectors are expected to put on a stern and no-nonsense front. But being affable helps break the ice.
“Although it sounds like an oxymoron, I believe we can be firm and personable at the same time. When importers or distributors get to know us better and understand why we do the things we do, they will feel ‘paiseh’ and do things right the next round.
In addition, when they need help or have constructive feedback, they know they can turn to us.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
Imported fruits and vegetables often arrive at PPWC or at importers’ premises in the early morning. Hence, Zan Xi is busiest when the rest of Singapore is fast asleep.
On days when there are surprise inspections arising from tip-offs, Zan Xi and his team mates only pack up to go home when the sun rises.
Despite the odd hours, Zan Xi likes that his role is not entirely desk-bound and involves some on-the-ground work.
“I like walking around and talking to importers and distributors, and even the uncle cutting vegetables at PPWC. Doing this will help you better understand ground sentiments.”
TOOL#4 - LINGUISTIC SKILLS
In order to be heard and understood, Zan Xi finds it useful to speak a smattering of languages and dialects.
Three years into his job, he has picked up Malay and a few dialects.
“Lorry drivers from across the causeway speak Malay, while workers at PPWC speak a ‘rojak’ of languages and dialects.
But if you listen carefully, you can hear other things at PPWC too - the slicing of vegetables, scraping of vegetable crates, and of course, the blare of a horn from a forklift carrying fruits.”