Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sam's on My Paper

Sam's on My Paper

Food blogs: treats or threats?

Serene Luo & Esther Au Yong
Wed, Jan 09, 2008,
my paper

DO NOT buy food from online food blogs. The convenience of buying online isn't worth it when it comes to personal safety.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) says the levels of hygiene maintained by blog sellers are "questionable".

Most of these popular blogs - many of them peddling dessert items like chocolates, cupcakes and other pastries that may contain uncooked butter cream - do not have the required NEA licence to prepare and sell food.

Last year, the NEA warned two such blog owners and made them remove all mention of their wares from their blogs.

Businesses that want to sell food must satisfy several criteria, such as typhoid inoculation for all food handlers, and have premises with the facilities for food preparation.

It is also illegal to sell home-cooked food to the public.

A spokesman said: "NEA takes a serious view of such unlicenced food sales as the conditions under which the food is prepared are questionable, and NEA will not hesitate to take enforcement actions against such individuals."

What's more important is whether the product is safe, said veteran food writer Sylvia Tan.

"PrimaDeli was a licensed food handler, and even then, people got sick," she said.
Recently, over 100 people came down with food poisoning after eating chocolate cakes from PrimaDeli bakery outlets.

Ms Tan advised my paper readers to be careful of where they purchase their goodies.

"Home sales have been going on for the longest time. Everyone knows someone who sells cookies or tarts. Personal recommendations are very important," she said.

Food bloggers say they will continue plying their wares

Licensed or not, customers will continue buying treats like cupcakes, pineapple tarts or fancy macaroons from "casual" home bakeries, they say.

At the same time, food bloggers selling their wares say they will continue their trade - because most of their customers are their friends.

Concern over hygiene standards kept by food bloggers hawking their wares had arisen, following last month's PrimaDeli food poisoning incident.

One blogger, editorial consultant Cheryl Chia, said that she knew about the National Environment Agency regulations and that "food poisoning can kill, it's scary".

"That's why I am now only baking for family and friends," she said.

The 23-year-old behind She Bakes & She Cooks said that she first started selling because readers wrote in, asking her to sell her baked goods to them.

Basic food hygiene is always observed, said Mr Samuel Chan, 22, of the blog Sam's Cakes and Bakes.

However, getting a licence is too costly, mainly because of the need for a commercial space, he said.

Under the law, homes cannot be used to cook food to be sold to the public.

First-time offenders could be fined up to $1,000.

"While we can't use our home kitchen, I feel that a home kitchen is clean enough and adequate when it comes to small-scale production," Mr Chan, a food technology student at a local polytechnic, said.

Undergraduate Julius Chen, 22, who runs the website Julius Truffles, suggested licensing home premises for small-scale baking.

"There can also be courses for home bakers. Perhaps awareness and education campaigns too, when it comes to concerns like food safety," he said.

In any case, many home bakeries come recommended by friends and should be reliable, said consumers whom my paper interviewed.

Marketing manager Ng Aik Kiat, 32, says he has been buying pineapple tarts and love letters from his neighbours for many years because he found the quality of their baked treats to be high.

"After all these years, there is a certain level of trust and confidence," he said.

"They might not be licensed, but it's almost like my own relatives making (these cookies) for me."

Account executive Jaslin Poh, 28, said she would still take this "calculated risk".

"As long as the website doesn't have a bad record, I will still go ahead," she said.

"I'll stop only if I get sick."