Parliament: NEA wants to speed up alerts on food licence suspensions

Spize restaurant in River Valley Road, which had its operating licences terminated following a fatal food poisoning incident. The NEA is looking to improve the speed at which the public is notified of food operators' licence suspensions.
Spize restaurant in River Valley Road, which had its operating licences terminated following a fatal food poisoning incident. The NEA is looking to improve the speed at which the public is notified of food operators' licence suspensions.PHOTO: ST FILE

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is looking at ways to alert people more quickly about food operators who have had their licences suspended.

Meanwhile, it will enhance NEA's website and its myENV app to make it easier for people to check the food hygiene records of the operators.

It is also looking at measures to better notify people about an operator's licence being suspended.

These initiatives were announced in Parliament by Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday when replying to four MPs who had asked about the spate of food poisonings late last year that affected more than 500 people.

"We are also looking into measures to better notify the public about a food operator's licence suspension," she added.

NEA officers are now equipped with tablets that allows them to access food operators' information and food safety history on the go.

They can also plan their inspections efficiently and be alerted to food-related incidents for a faster response.

Dr Khor gave an update on the five cases of food poisoning last year, saying tough action had been taken against the "food operators who have violated the law" and are responsible for theincidents.

The NEA will continue to suspend the operating licences of TungLok Catering - where 190 people had gastroenteritis - and the ballroom and affected kitchen at Mandarin Orchard hotel, where 175 people got food poisoning.

Their licences are suspended until they have complied with NEA requirements, including sanitising the affected areas and correcting the lapses.

For the lapses found at FoodTalks, NEA will issue summons to the operator, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in a written reply to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

 
 
 
 

As for Team Catering, there were several hygiene lapses, poor kitchen habits including improper storage of knives and poor housekeeping, and several possible commonly found pathogens were identified in the human stool samples, Mr Masagos added.

In her speech, Dr Khor told the House the NEA has also stepped up its checks, carrying out 77,000 inspections of all food retail establishments last year.

It will continue to do surprise checks, she told Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

Part of the inspections included more than 2,400 regular checks on food operators that provide catering services or have substantial catering operations.

Dr Khor also said over 900 extra inspections have been done since last month, bringing the total checks on caterers up to 3,300.

She said penalties for food operators involved in significant food poisoning incidents will be tightened.

The total composition amounts for fines will be raised and those who commit serious hygiene offences will be prosecuted.

The NEA will press for deterrent sentences to be imposed by the courts, she added.

The current penalty for selling food unfit for human consumption includes a maximum fine of $10,000 for the first offence, and $20,000 or jail of three months or both for repeat offenders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'NEA wants to speed up alerts on food licence suspensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe