Parliament Q&A

Written reply by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Question on Food Hygiene on 6 May 2019

Question by Mr Desmond Choo: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in light of the increasing number of mass food poisoning cases (a) whether the Ministry has detected systemic issues in our food hygiene framework; (b) whether the current training and enforcement regime is adequate; and (c) what are the Ministry's plans to prevent future cases.

Answer by Minister:

  The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) takes a serious view of food safety.  SFA will take enforcement action against operators who fail to adhere to food hygiene and safety regulations, and for any food hygiene lapses found.

2 SFA conducts regular inspections on a risk-based approach. From January 2018 to March 2019, more than 95,000 inspections of food operators were conducted to ensure compliance with food hygiene and safety. In particular, more than 3,700 checks were conducted on food caterers - a category of food business that poses higher food safety risks.

3 The Government is paying close attention to the mass gastroenteritis incidents reported between November 2018 and March 2019. Joint investigations by the Ministry of Health and SFA thus far found that poor food handling practices, the lack of environmental cleanliness both in the food preparation and common areas, and poor personal hygiene practices were the main causes of these outbreaks. Gastroenteritis can be caused by eating contaminated food, or coming in contact with an infected person or an environment contaminated by viral gastroenteritis.

4 On poor food handling practices, SFA has taken enforcement actions for the lapses found and required operators to rectify the lapses. SFA has stepped up surveillance and engagement of all food operators, particularly for food caterers supplying food to pre-schools, and during festive seasons. Advisories are issued periodically to remind food operators to ensure that their food handlers observe good food hygiene and safety practices, and that their Food Hygiene Officers (FHOs) fulfil their duties to ensure good food hygiene and safety practices, and adherence to time-stamping requirements.  

5 Food handlers and FHOs working at premises that have been suspended due to food hygiene and safety lapses are required to undergo re-training and be re-certified for Basic Food Hygiene Course (BFHC) and WSQ “Conduct Food & Beverage Hygiene Audit” programme respectively. SFA will continue to work with the industry to build a strong food safety culture among food business operators through strengthening their food safety management systems as well as competencies of food handlers and FHOs.

6 At the same time, SFA is taking steps to strengthen the regulatory regime for food hygiene and safety. For a start, heavier penalties will be imposed on food operators involved in significant food poisoning incidents. Total composition amounts will be increased and food operators who commit serious food hygiene and safety offences will be prosecuted in Court. In appropriate cases, SFA will also press for deterrent sentences to be imposed by the Court.

7 A multi-prong approach to incorporate good food hygiene and safety practices as well as good environmental and personal hygiene to prevent and control infection is important to mitigate gastroenteritis. In the recent spate of outbreaks in pre-schools, SFA and the Early Childhood Development Agency issued an advisory to emphasise the need to maintain environmental cleanliness and put in place infection control measures. This includes reinforcing good personal hygiene practices in every individual to prevent the spread of diseases and to protect oneself from acquiring infections. For instance, areas with vomitus must be properly cleaned with bleach to disinfect, and children and pre-school staff who are sick should stay at home so as not to spread infection.

8 Fundamentally, food safety is a joint responsibility across the industry, consumers and the Government as food can be contaminated at any point along the food supply chain. While SFA continues to be vigilant and ensures that regulatory measures are in place and properly enforced, the industry and consumers must also play their part to upkeep high standards of food, environmental and personal hygiene at all times.

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