Changes over sale of food in Chinese medical halls to be announced in due course: NEA

SINGAPORE - Changes to the food hygiene regime will be announced in due course, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a statement on Monday (May 15) evening, in response to media reports that Chinese medical halls may require licence to sell food like herbal tea and eggs.

Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported on Monday that NEA could be introducing regulations, including the possibility of licensing for the sale of food. This will reportedly include herbal tea, egg and jelly sometimes sold in Chinese medical shops.

Replying to queries from The Straits Times, the NEA said in an email response: "The NEA is continually exploring initiatives to encourage food retail operators to improve their hygiene standards and help consumers make better informed choices."

It added that "sufficient lead time will be provided for the industry to adapt to any enhancements to the food hygiene regime".

NEA also confirmed it held a dialogue with representatives of the Singapore Chinese Druggists Association (SCDA) in May, to seek their views on initiatives to strengthen food hygiene standards of retail establishments.

Acting president of SCDA Woo Boon Chong told ST that NEA was not targeting the industry, but raising the general food hygiene standards in Singapore.

SCDA will cooperate with the authorities' plans, help the industry self-regulate and raise the standard of service to consumers.

Mr Woo said: "The association is collecting information from Chinese medical shops that sell herbal tea or other food stuff made on their premises."

He said SCDA will hold a dialogue on June 4 after receiving feedback from its members. It hopes to further understand the situation, struggles, and challenges, as well as come up with solutions.

"The association welcomes non-members to participate in the dialogue," added Mr Woo. SCDA has around 300 members that are medical shops.

One such shop is Fong Cheong in Upper Cross Street, whose owner, Ms Chong Swee Lun, 67, said she has heard talk of licensing schemes before Monday.

"I'm waiting for more details as we don't know exactly what rules NEA will be introducing," she said.

The shop sells around 50 bottles of herbal tea a day, most of which are bought by office workers, she added.

"I don't mind getting the required certification," she said in Mandarin, but raised concerns about the cost of getting a licence. Lianhe Zaobao reported that it will cost $195.

She said: "We don't have a lot of profit from the sale of herbal tea, so it is a bit expensive."