NEA, AVA to prioritise inspection of caterers and catering premises this festive season

The National Environment Agency and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will be stepping up checks on food establishments during the festive season. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In the upcoming festive season, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will be prioritising their inspections to focus on licensees that provide catering services and premises with catering operations.

In a joint statement on Monday (Dec 3), the two agencies said that NEA and AVA will be issuing their regular year-end advisories to food operators to remind them to adhere to good hygiene practices during preparation and handling. This is in anticipation of an increase in consumers dining out and ordering catered food during this festive season.

In addition, NEA and AVA officers will provide advisory guidance and remind licensees and food handlers on proper food and personal hygiene practices. Safe preparation and handling of food will help minimise the risk of food poisoning incidents, the agencies said.

Operators of food retail establishments are advised to ensure that all their food handlers have attended the requisite basic hygiene training and are registered with NEA. Food handlers should not engage in any food preparation if they are sick, the agencies added.

These come on the heels of three recent cases of major food poisoning outbreaks that killed one and affected about 400 people.

Ahead of the festive season, NEA is providing briefing sessions for key representatives from the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore and the Restaurant Association of Singapore about the importance of food hygiene and safety.

The associations, which represent caterers and restaurants which provide catering services, have also committed to issuing food safety reminders to their members.

NEA and AVA will be conducting similar briefings to other major food service operators during this festive period, they said.

Consumers are advised to play their part in ensuring food safety, the agencies said.

NEA and AVA said that exercising care in food selection can reduce the risk of food poisoning. Consumers should note if food packaging has been damaged or whether the food has expired, as food safety and quality could be compromised.

In addition, members of the public are advised to handle raw and cooked food separately. Raw food can contain dangerous microorganisms, which can cause food-borne diseases. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and immune-compromised persons should avoid eating raw or uncooked food as a general precaution, the agencies added.

Consumers should also store food at the right temperatures and within the recommended shelf life. This would prevent harmful bacteria, which grows quickly at ambient room temperatures, from multiplying to reach sufficient levels that could cause food poisoning.

Further, members of the public are encouraged to observe good kitchen and personal hygiene practices to prevent food from becoming contaminated. Common serving spoons should be used when sharing food, and consumers should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating.

Consumers are reminded that thorough cooking helps to kill the harmful bacteria in food. Care should be taken with food that require more effort in cooking well, such as meat patties where meat becomes more exposed to bacteria in the process of mincing, as well as whole poultry and seafood, NEA and AVA said.

When eating catered food, consumers should ensure that the food is consumed within the stipulated "consume by" time period. Caterers are required to time-stamp the meals, and the "consume by" time is set at four hours from the time a cooked dish is placed at the temperature danger zone of between 5 deg C and 60 deg C.

Consumers should also engage only licensed caterers, NEA and AVA said. A list of licensed caterers is available on NEA's website.

Members of the public can also refer to NEA and AVA's websites for more food safety tips.

NEA has conducted more than 73,000 inspections on food retail establishments have been conducted between January and November this year, and has taken more than 2,600 enforcement actions against food retail operators who failed to comply with hygiene regulations. It has also suspended 84 licences.

In addition, AVA has conducted more than 9,000 inspections on food manufacturers and taken nearly 500 enforcement actions against licensees who failed to comply with regulations. It has suspended 13 licences as of Nov 30.

Should hygiene infringements be observed within the premises during NEA's routine inspections, the agency will take enforcement actions against the operator. The licensee will be required to rectify the hygiene lapses, NEA said.

Both NEA and AVA also conduct annual grading inspections at the food establishments, to perform a thorough systems audit of the operators' processes.

For premises with repeated offences or serious offences resulting in suspension, all their food handlers will be required to re-attend and pass the basic food hygiene course before they can resume work.

Consumers are advised not to patronise food establishments with poor hygiene practices, and to call the 24-hour NEA call centre at 1800-225-5632 to aid investigations.

In the interests of safeguarding public health, the agencies said that they will continue to review the overall framework to strengthen accountability of operators and ensure that food establishments take greater responsibility for the hygiene standards of their premises and operational processes.

There were three food poisoning outbreaks involving catering services in November.

Eighty-one people came down with gastroenteritis after eating bento boxes prepared by Spize Restaurant in River Valley for a Deepavali celebration. A 38-year-old man died and at least 45 people were hospitalised after consuming the bento boxes.

The latest food poisoning incident involved 131 kindergarten 2 pupils and teachers after eating meals prepared by FoodTalks Caterer & Manufacturer.

That came just a few days after 190 people fell ill after eating food prepared by TungLok Catering at a Singapore Civil Defence Force event.

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