SINGAPORE - Food establishment operators will now face harsher penalties if they are involved in major food poisoning incidents, as the authorities push for them to take greater responsibility for food hygiene standards following recent cases that have left one dead.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will be increasing the composition fines for such breaches, and more food operators who commit offences will be prosecuted in court.
The NEA and AVA will also press for deterrent sentences to be imposed by the court, where appropriate.
Currently, first-time offenders under the Environment Public Health Act face a maximum fine of $10,000, while repeat offenders face a fine of up to $20,000, three months' jail or both.
These are among the measures that the authorities will be taking with immediate effect to further safeguard public health and strengthen Singapore's food safety regime, the NEA and AVA said in a joint statement on Friday (Dec 21).
The measures come on the heels of four cases of major food poisoning outbreaks in November and December that killed one and affected about 600 people.
The food poisoning outbreaks were caused by food prepared at Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel, FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer, Tung Lok Catering at Singapore Expo, and Spize restaurant at River Valley Road.
Last week, the authorities said there was no link found between the four cases.
Another move that came into immediate effect requires food hygiene officers under an NEA scheme to go for training again and pass the WSQ Conduct Food and Beverage Hygiene Audit course if the licence of their food establishment has been suspended.
An eatery that has been suspended must have a properly trained and qualified food hygiene officer before the suspension can be lifted.
The NEA said that this measure will strengthen the overall supervision of food operations at these premises.
The agency added that its food hygiene officer scheme for foodcourts, canteens, caterers and large restaurants helps operators put in place adequate preventive measures and a system of supervisory checks and process monitoring, so that food handlers uphold a high standard of food and personal hygiene at all times.
The NEA and AVA added that they have completed most of their additional checks on food establishments that provide catering services.
The stepped-up checks also took place at premises with substantial catering operations during the festive period.
All of the inspections will be completed by end of the year, the authorities added.
These checks are on top of regular ones that take place at 40,700 food establishments here throughout the year.
The authorities have also issued regular year-end advisories to food operators to remind them to adhere to good hygiene practices during food preparation and handling.
In addition, on Dec 11 and Dec 13, the NEA met key representatives from the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore and the Restaurant Association of Singapore to further reinforce the importance of food hygiene and safety.
"Following the recent food poisoning incidents, the authorities will continue to place implicated premises under close surveillance and work with them to improve their food hygiene practices," said the NEA and AVA.
Meanwhile, the licenses of Mandarin Orchard's banquet kitchen and TungLok Catering's kitchen at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo remain suspended. The NEA said that it will be taking enforcement action against the licensees as well as FoodTalks for the hygiene lapses it identified.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of TungLok Group, said that catering operations are unaffected as the suspension only affects one of its kitchens.
"The findings are clear and we will not let this happen again," he said.
Mandarin Orchard said that it is "committed to doing all we can on our end to ensure we thoroughly address any issues in environmental and personal hygiene practices that led to the outbreak of gastroenteritis cases in our hotel", including ensuring all relevant staff are trained in and observe proper personal hygiene and food handling practices.
FoodTalks confirmed that it is still operating, but declined to comment.