The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it has taken enforcement action 14 times against stall holders at Tekka Market for improper storage of fresh meat.
NEA said under the Environment Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, any person selling raw meat – such as pork, chicken and mutton – must store the raw meat in a chiller at all times. It said that stall holders who contravene this regulation face a fine of up to S$2,000.
During a recent visit by Channel NewsAsia to Tekka Market, customers were found to be allowed to touch poultry meat, which had been left out of the chillers.
“I thought authorities said that meat can’t be placed out in the open?” said one customer at the market. “I see some stalls that place the meat outside, while others put it inside the chillers. There is nothing customers like us can do anyway.”
Health experts said raw meat should not be kept out in the open.
Said Assistant Professor Yang Liang from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Biological Sciences: “Considering the high temperatures of Singapore, it is really essential to make sure all the meat and other food are always maintained at cold temperatures.
“Bacteria can be found in the air, can be found from the body of the person who sells the chicken or meat. If we do not maintain the chicken at the right temperature and we do not cook it the right way, depending on the source of the micro-organisms, some of them can be very dangerous.”
The contamination may not be deadly, but those who consume contaminated food could still suffer from diarrhoea for a couple of days. And contrary to popular belief, cooking does not always make it safe said Asst Prof Yang.
“If we deep-fry, it can almost kill most of the bacteria, but I am not totally sure about some of the spores that the bacteria produce. Spores are a kind of fungi. Certain bacteria can produce spores, which can be extremely tolerant – even in several hundreds of degrees, they can survive.
“Do not rely on just cooking; it is not a way to kill the bacteria,” he added.
The stall keeper of Wee Chai Fresh and Frozen Chicken Supplier at Tekka, Mr Mohamed Rasun, said they only take their produce out of the chiller on weekends to attract customers and allow them to see the goods.
“I know by the law it is not right. We are (going) against the law, but we have no choice,” he said.
“So far our customers have never complained about our chicken being bad or dirty,” he said, adding that every hour, ice is put on the chickens put out of the chiller to keep them fresh.
Some customers Channel NewsAsia spoke to had mixed opinions.
“These are fresh chickens, so it probably won’t be a problem,” said one. “But if you keep it outside for a long period of time, then it is a problem.”
Another disagreed. “I never buy (raw meat from) here. A lot of people touch it.”
Stall owners said authorities have been conducting checks, and have warned errant stall holders. Some also said they have been fined in the past for similar practices.