Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Amy Khor, announced in Parliament on 14 January new measures to make it easier and faster for consumers to be informed of food license suspensions.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is considering putting quick links on its website, and having push notifications to its myENV app to notify consumers of such suspensions, as well as enable the public to access the hygiene records of food operators. In addition, NEA officers will be equipped with portable tablets that offer them instant access to food operators’ information and food safety history while on-the-go. The officers will also be alerted of food-related incidents so that they can react promptly.

These new initiatives are in response to the five most-recent cases of mass food poisoning that occurred in late 2018 and affected more than 500 people. Although joint investigations by the Ministry of Health, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the NEA have since confirmed that there were no links between the cases, all five incidents occurred due to a lack of hygiene practices among the food handlers.

Khor updated on the five cases, stressing that severe action has been taken against the offending food operators. The licenses of two operators (Tung Lok catering, as well as the ballroom and affected kitchen at Mandarin Orchard hotel) will continue to be suspended by the NEA, until the caterers have proven that the necessary rectifications have been complied with. Among the NEA-imposed requirements include sanitizing the affected areas, reviewing hygiene processes and correcting the lapses.

In addition, Khor revealed the Food Hygiene Officers (FHO) “of the suspended food establishments must be properly trained and re-certified (for the WSQ “Conduct Food & Beverage Hygiene Audit” qualification) before they can recommence operations”. She further urged consumers “to engage only licensed caterers, and consume catered food within the stipulated ‘consume by’ time period”, adding that consumers “who come across poor hygiene practices in food establishments should provide feedback to the authorities for further investigation”.

Public records show that an annual average of 110 food establishments have been suspended over the past five years due to gaps in hygiene practices. Meanwhile, the NEA has stepped up checks on food establishments with a total of 77,000 inspections carried out in 2018. Further, the NEA plans to cooperate with the AVA to strengthen the overall regulatory framework for food operators. This is in preparation for the Singapore Food Agency, which will be formed on 1 April 2019 to administer food safety and security across Singapore.

On top of that, the government has increased the penalty for offenders: a fine of up to SGD 10,000 for the first offence; and a fine of SGD 20,000 or three-month imprisonment or both for repeat offenders.

Nevertheless, Khor stressed that “even as we operate a stringent regulatory regime, food operators bear the ultimate responsibility to serve safe and clean food to their customers, and must ensure that their premises are kept clean, food handlers practice good hygiene and the food prepared is safe for consumption”.

Source: The Straits Times

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