More needy people to get excess food from hypermarkets

Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (in checkered shirt), together with state exco Abdul Halim Hussain (in pink) and Food Aid Foundation director of operations Hayati Ismail (right) collecting unsold fruits at Tesco Extra in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry is looking to expand the Mutiara Food Bank initiative nationwide, its minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said today.

The food bank is a Penang government-funded initiative to collect unsold vegetables, fruits and pastries from supermarkets for the use of the needy. It is the brainchild of Saifuddin, who is also PKR’s secretary-general.

The minister hopes to link up with several other ministries, relevant NGOs and the Penang government to realise this by next year.

Before the rollout is done next year, he said they would first carry out pilot projects in several states.

Discussions held with several state governments have already yielded positive results.

“When we carry out these pilot projects, the model currently being used in Penang will be duplicated in other states.

“I was informed by the ministry’s secretary-general that they planned to make Kelantan the next destination.

“The Negri Sembilan government has also announced its plans to undertake the same scheme,” he said, adding that a meeting with the respective state domestic trade department directors will be taking place today.

Saifuddin said this at a press conference after a briefing on the Mutiara Food Bank today.

He said the expansion of the scheme would not have any major financial implications, as the big supermarkets had excess food from the fruits, vegetables and bakery sections.

“We just need to streamline the collection of the excess food and the distribution after that.

“This is why I see this is one of the immediate programmes the ministry can spearhead. Several major supermarkets we have spoken to are already receptive,” he said.

The Pantai Jerejak assemblyman also noted that when the initiative first kicked off in Penang, only seven Tesco supermarkets took part in the initiative.

He is now hoping for participation from other major chains, such as Mydin, Aeon, Giant and LuLu hypermarkets.

Saifuddin said the programme would later include hotels which have excess food in their kitchens, untouched and unsold.

“The Mutiara Food Bank is in the midst of repairing the central kitchen at the Caring Society Complex.

“When it becomes operational, the excess food from the hotels will be handled by the Penang Chefs Association.

“They will freeze the food, which comprise halal curries and typical Malaysian cooked food, bring them to the central kitchen, reheat them and repackage them to be distributed to those in need.

“This is for Penang. For the other states, we will start with the excess food from the three sections in the supermarkets,” he said.

Saifuddin said even though he had kickstarted the programme, he believed it was now time to hand it over to state Consumer Affairs exco Abdul Halim Hussain as well as state Welfare Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.

On whether any new legislation was needed, Saifuddin said this was currently in the works.

“There are plans for new legislation. Such an initiative is still new in the country. It has mostly been led by NGOs on a small scale.

“In the long term, of course, we will need to regulate and have specific laws for this. I am discussing with the ministry’s legal adviser and we are moving towards that.

“We can begin by registering interested parties,” he said.