As more businesses venture into using vending machines that dispense ready-to-eat meals, steps are being taken to professionalise the industry.
A set of guidelines has been drawn up to help operators ensure food safety and good hygiene practices, such as maintaining hot food above 60 deg C even during transport to restrict bacterial growth.
It was launched yesterday at VendFest, an exhibition featuring nine food-vending operators that serve dishes such as rice dumplings, pizza and chilli crab.
VendFest, held in conjunction with the month-long AsiaMalls Foodie Festival YAS! and supported by Spring Singapore, will run until July 27 at the atrium of Tampines 1 mall. Exhibitors include Saybons, House of Seafood, JR Vending and U-Market Place, which manufactures rice dumplings under the Joo Chiat Kim Choo brand.
The guidelines for the vending industry, launched by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, were developed by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation-Standards Development Organisation and Spring Singapore in consultation with industry members.
The document, which can be bought from the Singapore Standards eShop, will also help operators that need a licence from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ensure they meet its requirements.
Since last December, food vending operations that require temperature control or in-machine food preparation must be licensed.
Among the NEA's requirements are the installation of a temperature measuring device to ensure that frozen, chilled and hot foods are kept at specified temperatures, and an indication of the production and consume-by dates on pre- packed food.
In response to queries, the NEA said it has issued 21 licences to vending-machine operators that run a total of 400 machines.
Speaking at the launch, Ms Low noted that a growing number of companies are turning to vending machines and selling ready meals following a government push for the food services sector to adopt more innovative and manpower- lean formats amid a tight labour market.
About 30 companies, including the nine at VendFest, will be installing new machines within the next year, Ms Low said. "As with any new food technology, hygiene and safety are two very important factors," she said, urging operators to follow the guidelines.
JR Group chief executive officer Jocelyn Chng, co-convener of the guide's working group, said its launch is "timely and necessary in setting standards for the vending industry".
Ms Joey Oh, deputy chief executive of U-Market Place, said she initially struggled with understanding the requirements to obtain an NEA licence for her vending machines, which dispense salted and nyonya rice dumplings.
The company launched its first machine in Holland Avenue in May, and hopes to have 10 machines islandwide within a year.
"The guide will definitely be helpful for businesses in getting the NEA licence, and I think having these high standards will help consumers to feel safe," she said.
Student Joyce Lee, 16, was impressed by some of the food she sampled at VendFest yesterday.
"You're definitely seeing more upmarket foods in vending machines now. I haven't been worried about the food safety aspect, but it is reassuring to have guidelines," she said.