GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's homemade cookie sellers here are peeved over a Health Department directive to strictly enforce labels on their product containers detailing the nutritional contents, among other things.
Many claim they are unaware of such a rule and unsure of the details required to be put on the labels.
Market trader Khaw Cheng See, 70, said she has just received a batch of cookies from her supplier for the coming Chinese New Year but did not dare display the homemade food for fear of being fined for not labelling them properly.
"I have been selling Chinese New Year cookies for the past 30 years, and this is the first time I am hearing of this rule."
"I got to know about it from a WeChat group recently and was told that a few traders on mainland Penang were fined as their products were not labelled," Madam Khaw said.
"I usually start selling the cookies two months before Chinese New Year. But, this year, I am late by over a month because of this issue. My cookies supplier managed to put labels on the cookies containers. But we are not sure if these labels meet the requirements of the authorities, " she said.
Another trader, Lim Teng Thean, 68, said he hoped more time would be given to cookie makers before the ruling is implemented.
"I have been selling homemade cookies since I was 15 years old and we make the Chinese New Year cookies only once a year to make some pocket money."
"It is quite troublesome to list out the information needed for the labels, " he said.
Fellow trader, who wished to be known only as Nancy, 64, said her cookies are homemade by senior citizens who wished to earn some money for the festive season.
"They look forward to celebrating the festival and start baking the cookies one or two months early. They usually do not put labels on their products."
"As the new school term is going to start soon, some housewives are also baking cookies to earn money to buy new uniforms for their children," she said.
When contacted, a Penang Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry spokesman said enforcement was usually carried out on manufacturers who produce large batches of cookies and on those who import cookies from overseas, as they were more familiar with the ruling.
"Homemade festive cookies makers are temporarily exempted from this ruling. For now, we will give these cookies sellers a warning and educate them on the right way of labelling their products. If they repeat the mistake, we will issue them with compound fines," said the spokesman.
According to the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011, products that are packaged must be labelled with information such as product name, content and details of the manufacturer.
"If imported, the country of origin has to be put on the label so that the ministry can keep tabs on problematic products."
Penang Health Department director Asmayani Khalib said homemade food products for sale must have labels in accordance with the Food Regulations (1985) except for items that are weighed and measured in the presence of the buyers.
"Food that can easily go bad and are packaged at the premises according to the buyers' needs, for example, nasi lemak and banana fritters, are exempted from having labels."
"Our department carries out enforcement operations on product packaging from time to time especially during festive seasons to make sure that the food products sold comply with the guidelines under Food Regulations (1985)."
Added Dr Asmayani: "We are concerned about issues that might pose a health threat to consumers."
The directive, she said, is being implemented throughout Malaysia.
"All food processed or packaged in Malaysia must be labelled in Bahasa Malaysia, whereas authorised imported food must be labelled in English or Bahasa Malaysia," she said.
The basic information required for the labels are name of the product, ingredients, manufacturer's name and address, the product's weight as well as usage of hypersensitive ingredients that might cause allergies, she said in a statement on Thursday (Dec 12).