By Amresh Gunasingham
THE National Environment Agency's (NEA) hawker grading system, which covers over 5,000 hawkers in 100 food centres island-wide, is 'sound', said Environment Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on Wednesday.
And linking hygiene to a tender system would be 'too harsh', he said in response to tougher measures proposed by the Health Ministry at public hospitals, which may include issuing tenders to its canteen stallholders with a 'A' or 'B' hygiene grade.
Speaking to reporters at the launch of NEA's $8 million recycling fund on Wednesday morning, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said penalising stall-owners with a 'C' grading or below would be 'too harsh'.
'There are about 5,000 hawkers of variant qualities and backgrounds. We must not run away from the fact that the grading system already in place is robust and sound,' he said.
He said NEA prefers instead to work in an 'evolutionary way', while maintaining pressure on stallholders to improve hygiene standards.
'As far as we are concerned, the present grading system is sound. The system has evolved and over the years, more hawkers are improving in terms of their grading,' he said.
He cited statistics which indicated that 99 per cent of all stall holders under the Government's Hawker Centre Upgrading Programme have either a 'A' or 'B' grading.
'This shows that as we begin to improve the ambience, design, layout and impose better cleaning practices, hawkers can do a good job in terms of improving hygiene standards,' he said.
He said a food poisoning outbreak, such as the one which broke out earlier this month at a temporary market in Geylang Serai, could occur as long as there were lapses. 'The most important thing is that we develop good hygiene practices,' said Dr Yaacob.
[Can we expect a 100% safe system with no food poisoning ever? Even the US has salmonella cases. Generally, are we afraid to eat at hawker centres? Do we stay away from "C" graded stalls? For the most part Singaporeans are pragmatic and reasonable people. If the environment is too much for you, you'll probably not eat there. And if enough people feel that way, business will drop and the stall-owners should learn to do something about it.
If you want "A" graded stalls. Eat at Mac. I hear the food's kinda bland tho.]