From ‘Fruit sellers upset over NEA regulation’, 1 Oct 2012, article by Eunice Toh, TNP
…Fruit sellers at the market said they were verbally warned by a National Environment Agency (NEA) officer on Thursday last week that they are not allowed to skin or cut the pineapples they sell. They said they were told that anyone who violates the regulation would be slapped with a fine, believed to be $200.
The New Paper understands that the move is part of licensing regulations. Stallholders at markets are not licensed to sell peeled or cut fruits. These can only be sold at hawker centres and coffee shops under a different licence, and you need to go through the Basic Food Hygiene Course to get it, says NEA on its website.
…The enforcement of the regulation means a loss of customers, said the fruit sellers at the Geylang Serai wet market. Said Mr Ng Ah Bee, 62, in Mandarin: “Have people fallen ill from eating my fruits? We haven’t received any complaints all these years. “How do we do business like this?”
…Regular patron C. C. Choo, who visits the Geylang Serai market every Tuesday, said: “I live at Changi Road and I come all the way to buy pineapples because the stallholders peel the fruit for me.” The 79-year-old retiree added: “I can’t even cut an apple. How am I supposed to peel a pineapple?”
Another customer shocked by the news was Madam Bebe Seet, 62. She said: “I thought the stallholder was joking at first. I couldn’t believe it.” She is also worried about how this would affect her 15-year-old business. She owns a Peranakan heritage shop along East Coast Road, which also sells pineapple tarts.
She said: “I usually order about 80 to 100 pineapples at one go. Pineapple tarts are my speciality. Where am I going to get cut pineapples now?”
It may just be a coincidence, but another ‘SEET’ complained to STOMP about being deprived of this ‘buang kulit’ service, though this person claimed that the fine was not $200, but $1000. There haven’t been cases of people dying of pineapple poisoning in recent memory, but there have been deaths from consuming rojak in Geylang Serai in 2009, that’s excluding 150 others who fell sick from it. Which may explain why NEA officers are picking on Geylang Serai stallholders rather than those in other markets, with its infamy of being the site of the WORST case of food poisoning in Singapore’s history. It was also a PR disaster for NEA, otherwise known for their rigorous maintenance of hygiene standards. And asking people to clear their trays after eating.
Leaving the skin on a fruit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ‘cleaner’, as anyone who’s been to a supermarket and seen aunties probing fruit with their grubby fingers can testify. It would be interesting if someone decides to send a random unpeeled NTUC apple and a Geylang Serai peeled and cut pineapple for microbial testing. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the apple having a higher bacterial count than the doorknob of a People’s Park toilet, a result by which you can toss the NEA’s case against cut fruits out of the window. I haven’t personally peeled a pineapple myself, but from the looks of its hard, spiny exterior, I wouldn’t call it so much ‘peeling’ as it is ‘deshelling’. You’d probably need a blade sharp enough to pry a tortoise’s carapace off its back. If you force pineapple fans to bring these armoured fruits home WHOLE, they may end up contaminating the fruits themselves if not done in a surgical manner, with a chopper or on a chopping board that has remnants of raw meat on it. If you’re in a mad rush to prepare stacks of pineapple tarts for CNY however, a chainsaw would be the only viable option.
So what does one make of this ‘Basic Food Hygiene Course’ then? Turns out it is 7 hours of training followed by 1.5 hours of ‘assessment’, which I’d imagine to be nothing more than a T/F or MCQ test. After which you’re a certified food handler, though that doesn’t stop creepy crawlies from finding their way into your dishes, whether you’re slogging it out at a wet market or a fancy restaurant. Unless the NEA can justify how a cut and sealed pineapple is more hazardous than a bunch of manhandled grapes in a supermarket, my take is that this crackdown is excessively erring on the side of caution than anything else, based on nothing more than a legacy of contaminated rojak, the kind of rojak that traditionally doesn’t use pineapple too.