Just the recipe for brisk sales

Good hygiene is essential when running a home-based food business. It will not only boost customer confidence, but also lead to more orders, say those who have ventured into the field.

THERE has been a noticeable increase in the number of online businesses and roadside stalls offering a wide variety of food and beverages since the Covid-19 pandemic started last year.

Shiren Mena Anak Alouis Anyau and her husband Jimmy Anak Edwin Bayang, both Sarawakians, started selling kolo mee in June from their Johor Baru home.

Shiren Mena, 27, said Jimmy lost his job at a carwash when the sector was not allowed to operate under Phase One of the National Recovery Plan.

She said they made the Sarawak noodles at their flat in Taman Tampoi Utama, with orders mostly coming from those in the vicinity.

“We were initially not confident about starting a food business but decided to go ahead.

“We have two young children, so our family expenses are considerable.

“Thankfully, my husband had experience working at a restaurant before.

Jimmy and Shiren packing kolo mee orders at their flat in Taman Tampoi Utama. — Photos: THOMAS YONG/The StarJimmy and Shiren packing kolo mee orders at their flat in Taman Tampoi Utama. — Photos: THOMAS YONG/The Star

“We made the noodles for our friends first to get their feedback before promoting th

e dish on social media and chat groups.

“So far, what we earn is sufficient to feed our family,” said Shiren Mena.

Jimmy is the cook while she helps to prepare the ingredients and manages the orders.

Despite being a home-based business, they use separate pots and cooking utensils to make sure the food quality and hygiene is maintained, she added.

Now that Jimmy has found a job, the couple takes orders only once a week.

Jimmy cooks and delivers the noodles on his day off.

“We will keep the business running as long as we receive orders, because it helps to supplement our income while also promoting a popular Sarawakian dish,” said Shiren Mena.

For 28-year-old Norafisyah Ahmad, who started running a home-based dessert business in July last year, maintaining a dry and hygienic workspace is a priority.

“My speciality is pavlova, a dessert made of fluffy egg whites and garnished with fresh cream and fruits.

“Even the tiniest drop of water, oil or speck of dust will affect the outcome of the dish. So, I have to always wipe down my workstation and ensure that the kitchen is well-ventilated.

“I used to work at a sushi restaurant where I learnt that cleanliness is the most important factor in food handling and that we must wash our hands before performing any task.

“I also wear a face mask, gloves and apron when baking and packing my orders at home,” she said, adding her sister-in-law helped out occasionally.

Norafisyah says maintaining a dry and hygienic workspace is crucial for the outcome of her products.Norafisyah says maintaining a dry and hygienic workspace is crucial for the outcome of her products.

Norafisyah, who lives in Taman Sri Pulai Perdana, said she ventured into the online business while pursuing a master’s degree in architecture after her interior designing gig fell through due to the pandemic.

Armed with only an interest in baking, she started by learning via YouTube how to make pavlovas. It did not produce the desired results at first.

“I tried and failed miserably and could not produce pavlovas with the right texture and taste.“I almost gave up the idea of opening an online baking business.

“With my husband’s encouragement, I then signed up for a baking course.

“After that, I received positive feedback from my customers, which gave me the confidence to keep going,” said Norafisyah, who plans to take a certified course on food handling to expand her business.

High hygiene standards is also importat to seafood restaurant chef-turned-home cook Leong Wai Aik, even after switching to cooking at home in Kebun Teh.

The 38-year-old, who had cooked for thousands at wedding banquets in Singapore where he worked in restaurants for more than 12 years, was forced to return to Johor Baru in June last year after he was retrenched.

Leong adding gravy to the lunch packs he prepared for the underprivileged.Leong adding gravy to the lunch packs he prepared for the underprivileged.

Upon returning, he tried selling char kuey teow at food courts in Taman Nusa Bestari and Taman Ungku Tun Aminah but it did not last.

Leong then switched to working in construction but when the movement control order kicked in earlier this year, he was jobless once again.

“It was a tough period for my family where we had to rely on food banks to get by.

“Life improved after I became an authorised seller of dairy products.

“I decided to return to the kitchen, but this time to cook for charity as a way of giving back to the community.

“That’s when Stulang assemblyman Andrew Chen Kah Eng asked me to cook for old folks and the underprivileged in his constituency.

“These days I cook nutritious meals for those who need it, which gives me a huge sense of satisfaction,” he said, adding that he empathised with the underprivileged since he grew up in an orphanage.

Leong comes up with the menu a week in advance, adding all this is second nature to him as he started working in kitchens from the age of 16.

“I usually marinate and prepare the ingredients the night before and begin cooking at around 8am to have the lunch packs ready for distribution by 11am.”

He added that he would continue cooking for the needy at home while waiting for the border with Singapore to reopen, so he could look for jobs across the Causeway again.

Regulating traders

Most people interviewed by StarMetro said they did not mind supporting online food businesses or food stalls even if their sellers have no prior training or certification, as long as they had received favourable reviews.

Research officer Lee Xiao Fen, 29, said her experience with online food orders had been quite positive so far.

She would usually check the reviews on social media before making a purchase from any seller.

“I like this option as it provides variety and convenience. Plus, I can avoid going out and possibly facing crowds at an eatery.

“I find that food from home-based cooks is tastier and healthier than restaurant fare, and it is not as salty or oily.”

University student Nur Yasmine Hanie Mohd Yunus, 21, has no qualms about buying food from roadside stalls but she avoids those with dirty surroundings, uncovered food and houseflies.

She sees buying food from roadside stalls as a way of supporting small businesses, as many people have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic.

“I generally don’t mind buying from unlicensed stalls and online sellers as I trust that they will do their best to serve good products to paying customers.”

Meanwhile, Malaysia Consumer Justice Association president SP Prem said more stalls had popped up in many areas since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with consumers spoilt for choice.

“Due to high demand for takeaway and delivery, many have set up home-based businesses and even opened stalls right in front of their houses.

“Food handlers usually have to undergo a course and take a typhoid jab before they can obtain a trading licence from the local councils.

“We understand that people are looking for alternative solutions to earn a living but when there are no regulations as to who can sell food to the public, it can lead to unwanted problems such as food poisoning,” he said.

Similarly, Pasir Gudang City Council (MBPG) Taman Scientex zone councillor Noor Azleen Ambros said hawkers and stalls had mushroomed along main roads in many neighbohoods.

He noted that licensing ensures food sellers had met minimum health and safety standards set by the local council and Health Department.

“However, given the current situation, we understand their predicament.

“It is on a self-regulatory and trust basis at the moment but the council advises all traders to ensure the cleanliness of their site and not leave anything behind when they cease operations for the day,” he said.

Noor Azleen said MBPG had conducted a survey to determine whether these hawkers wanted to operate on a long-term or short-term basis.

“The council will help long-term hawkers by providing licences and placing them at suitable trading locations,” he added.

Boosting confidence

Hygiene and safety during food preparations must be given priority, stresses a food safety specialist.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Social Sciences and Humanities Faculty senior lecturer Dr Nornazira Suhairom said negligence in these areas could lead to problems such as cross-contamination or food poisoning.

“Self-taught cooks and bakers starting their own food business should be applauded.

“However, many do not take the effort to learn about handling food such as ingredient management, using separate cooking utensils and making sure there are no pets around the food preparation area,” she noted.

She highlighted that food handlers must undergo a basic course conducted by Health Ministry-accredited training institutions to obtain a food handler certificate.

“With the pandemic, such courses from as low as RM50, are available online.

“Apart from learning the basics such as knowing the right temperature to store food, managing raw ingredients and leftovers besides the first-in, first-out system, having such certification adds value to a business and gives customers confidence when placing an order,” said Nornazira.

Meanwhile, Johor unity, trade and consumer affairs committee chairman Dr Chong Fat Full said the government must balance public health with the need of ordinary Malaysians to earn a living.

“These are tough times and many people are trying to find ways to survive.

“If the government enforces strict regulations, it may not bode well for these groups while relaxed regulations may give rise to negligence.

“A smart consumer has to make an evaluation by checking the reviews on the online seller or looking at the condition of the food stalls apart from the prices.

“Positive or negative reviews could make or break their businesses,” he said.

A check with the Johor Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP) found that the food-related complaints it received involved mostly expired products, raw ingredients that were no longer fresh and uncertified or imitation products.

Consumers can lodge complaints through its hotline 1-800-886-800, email e-aduan@kpdnhep.gov.my or WhatsApp 019-279 4317.

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