Convicted of making curry puffs and selling them without a licence, Indonesian Robiah Lia Caniago spent five days in jail as she could not pay her $3,000 fine.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has since revealed that she was part of a foreign syndicate mass-producing curry puffs from her Lengkok Bahru rental flat.
It had acted on public complaints against Madam Robiah and the flat's other occupants in June last year. According to an NEA spokesman, they "found a foreign syndicate mass-producing curry puffs".
He continued: "During the inspection, Madam Robiah and eight other people, all of whom are on social visit passes, were preparing curry puffs on the floor of the premises.
"When questioned, Madam Robiah claimed that they were all her relatives.
"NEA's records showed that four of them had been ticketed between four and 13 times previously for illegal hawking of curry puffs at various public places, such as MRT stations.
"This was also the second time within a month that the same premises was found to be used for unlicensed mass preparation of curry puffs."
One witness to such a "factory" believes these curry puff operations are highly mobile and she concurs with NEA that they are made in "terrible" conditions.
Sa'adah Jan, 35, saw an unlicensed curry puff "factory" operating out of a stall at a coffee shop in Kelantan Road three years ago.
She ran a Malay food stall beside the factory until the coffee shop was shut down by the authorities.
"They suddenly popped up one day in an empty stall and started to make curry puffs. Not hundreds, but thousands of curry puffs," she tells The New Paper on Sunday.
For months, Madam Sa'adah watched them. More than 20 Indonesians produced the curry puffs by hand before passing them on to runners.
"One time, I saw a group of men 'dancing' together in the stall. When I went closer, they were actually kneading the dough with their feet," says Madam Sa'adah, who now runs her own restaurant.
When their operations grew bigger, some of the curry puff makers slept in the alley behind the shop.
She also caught some of them spending the night in her stall.
From speaking to one of the Indonesians, she found out that the stall and the sellers who collected the curry puffs did not have the proper licences from the authorities.
She also took pictures of the operations. They show the workers hanging their dirty laundry near the food, which they prepare on the floor of their stall.
But Madam Sa'adah did not report them as she was coerced not to by the other stall owners in the coffee shop.
"They told me if I called NEA, NEA would check on everyone in the coffee shop, not just the curry puff stall," she says.
A few months after she discovered the factory, NEA inspectors shut the place down.
She says: "I can't believe they are actually selling these dirty curry puffs to people, including schoolchildren."
An NEA spokesman said it takes a tough stance towards errant food operators who flout hygiene regulations, especially those who run unlicensed operations, as they could pose serious threats to public health.
Members of the public are advised not to buy food from illegal hawkers. In particular, illegally sold food items such as curry puffs may not have been prepared in accordance with proper hygiene procedures or undergone quality control checks.
THE NEW PAPER
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