New grading system may favour established eateries

Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng was right in saying that the current hygiene grading system tends to be biased towards eateries that sell foods requiring minimal preparation, like beverages (One-size-fits-all approach to food hygiene rating does not work; June 23).

However, the new grading system may also be biased towards a different group of eateries - those that are more established.

Businesses in the food and beverage industry, especially those in hawker centres, tend to face stiff competition.

This, coupled with rising costs and the pressure to keep prices affordable, can potentially cause those eateries that cannot survive to close down or relocate.

Hence, it may be difficult for an eatery to remain in business at the same location continuously for more than 10 years, rendering the milestone of getting the gold rating attainable for only the more established eateries with regular patrons.

Also, consumers are usually informed of a major lapse in hygiene if a popular eatery is suspended for a few weeks after an inspection, and the incident is reported in the media.

But such incidents usually occur only a few times in a year. The low frequency of such major lapses would make attaining the new ratings easier, at least for bronze and silver.

More importantly, the new grading system does not offer one insight into an eatery's current state of hygiene and cleanliness, unlike the present system.

For instance, an eatery may have achieved gold, but that does not mean that it is necessarily cleaner than one with only a bronze or silver. It merely indicates that it has a clean record for more than 10 years.

While track records are important, as a consumer deciding whether to buy food from a stall or not, a stall's current or most recent hygiene state would also be an important factor to consider.

Perhaps the National Environment Agency can complement the new rating system with a separate grading similar to the current one, where grades A, B or C state the eatery's most recent state of cleanliness.

This would give consumers a more comprehensive overview of the eatery's hygiene level.

Aaron Low Chin Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'New grading system may favour established eateries'. Print Edition | Subscribe