GEORGE TOWN, Jan 15 — The Health Ministry’s compulsory training for food handlers came under fire from a Penang councillor today, who questioned the rationale in forcing workers to pay RM50 each for a scheme that could earn the training institutes an estimated RM70 million.
With the deadline for its implementation set for January 23, Penang Municipal Councillor Ong Ah Teong today added that food handlers in the state were crying foul over the move and complaining of fraudsters pretending to be trainers.
“We fully support making this course compulsory for all food handlers to ensure food hygiene but I want to know why they are charged RM50 per person to attend the course,” he told a press conference at the council licensing department’s office here.
The Health Ministry started implementing and enforcing the Food Hygiene Regulations 2009 three years ago, which includes the compulsory course for all food handlers in the food-and-beverage industry.
All food handlers will be required to undergo a RM50, three-hour training course by ministry-endorsed food-handler training institutes, after which they will each be issued a certificate.
Food handlers include restaurant workers, street hawkers and all workers serving up ready-to-eat food in the food and beverage industry.
“What we really want to know is why are the food handlers required to pay to these training institutes especially when this is a compulsory course?” Ong asked.
He estimated that all these “selected” training institutes would be making profits of close to RM72.5 million nationwide from the compulsory course.
In Penang, a hawkers’ paradise with approximately 85,000 food handlers, the six ministry-endorsed training institutes stand to earn about RM4.25 million from the conducting the course.
“How are these training institutes selected? Why isn’t the ministry conducting the courses for free since it is compulsory but allowing these selected institutes to make money from this?” Ong asked.
He also questioned the rationale behind making it necessary to complete the compulsory course only once, before issuing “lifetime” certificates.
“How can they issue a ‘lifetime’ certificate after a three-hour course when all food handlers should be required to undergo refresher courses regularly, as I am sure no one can remember a three-hour course for a ‘lifetime,’” he said.
The Penang Island Municipal Council has also conducted similar courses every three years but only charged RM20 for typhoid jabs, which is part of the course programme, to all participants.
“This is also why many local food handlers are complaining against the compulsory course as they are wondering why they have to attend yet another course after attending the council’s course,” he said.
The council conducted the course for about 15,000 food handlers on the island last year.
The compulsory course has also given rise to bogus companies posing as training institutes endorsed to undertake the training.
A few days ago, health state executive councillor Dr Afif Bahardin had issued a warning to all food handlers to be wary of conmen pretending to be representatives from “appointed” training institutes.
So far, the ministry only appointed six training institutes in Penang, two on the island and four on the mainland.
The institutes on the island are Pearl Garden Enterprise and SQC Management (Pg) Sdn Bhd while on the mainland, the institutes are, Pusat Pusat Latihan dan Perundingan Wasin; Sihat Utama Enterprise; CSL Training and Consultancy and Institusi Pengendali Makanan Ilham.
The state is also investigating reports it had received regarding the conmen which Dr Afif claimed had approached eateries to demand for payment before “issuing” them fake certificates.