New food safety licensing regime for food outlets to start from 2023: SFA

An estimated 23,000 food establishments will come under the Safety Assurance for Food Establishments framework from Jan 1, 2023. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
A hawker at Teck Ghee Court Food Centre prepares food on Oct 25, 2021. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - A new licensing regime for food establishments will be introduced from 2023 to provide better assurance of food safety to consumers, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said on Monday (Oct 25).

Other than their track record, such as not having major food safety lapses over a period of time, the multi-year framework will take into account whether eateries appoint food hygiene officers, among other things.

An estimated 23,000 food establishments will come under the Safety Assurance for Food Establishments (Safe) framework that is expected to kick in from Jan 1, 2023, across retail and non-retail food establishments, said SFA in its statement.

Food establishments include caterers, restaurants, bakeries and food manufacturers. They are currently graded either A, B, C or D, based on an annual assessment of their premises' food safety performance.

With the new framework, this grading system will be replaced with bronze, silver and gold awards.

The awards will correspond with a three-, five-, or 10-year licence duration. The higher the award tier, the longer the duration. New licensees or those who have less than two years without a major lapse will be given a one-year licence with no award.

SFA deputy chief executive Tan Lee Kim said the new framework takes into account ongoing performance, compared with an annual grading audit which provides a "snapshot reflection" of a food establishment's food safety and hygiene standards.

"This is a better representation of the food establishment's consistent efforts in food safety assurance and can enable consumers to make better informed choices," said Dr Tan, who is also director-general for food administration.

SFA announced the intention to revamp the food licensing regime last year.

The criteria to get an award also varies with the category the food establishment is under. Those involved in food handling practices with higher risks, such as those in Category A, will have to fulfil more requirements under the framework, such as appointing a food hygiene officer, before getting a desired award tier.

To support the framework, SFA said it has also implemented a training framework comprising four levels known as the Food Safety Courses (FSC).

Food establishments will be given sufficient time to implement the necessary requirements, such as attending these courses if needed, to attain the desired award tier when the framework is implemented in 2023.

The food establishment with moderate practices with lower risks are placed under Category B. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

They will be notified in 2022 of their award tiers based on their track record of food safety assurance, said SFA. From Jan 1, 2022, instead of a displayed grade, consumers can scan a QR code to check the food establishment's track record.

Food stalls within coffee shops, hawker centres, food courts and canteens fall within the Safe framework and will also be given awards based on their track records, but their licence duration will depend on the tenancy agreement period. About 29,000 food stalls are eligible for the awards.

Professor William Chen, director of the Nanyang Technological University's food science and technology programme, said the current system is rigid, as an outlet may do very well during the inspection but if there are any hygiene issues, the downgrading is not immediate.

He said: "The new framework takes into consideration a real-time response to the incident. Another advantage is there is a reward system. When people pay attention to food safety matters and perform well, they also get rewarded with a longer licensing period."

Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) president Andrew Kwan said the new system would eliminate the additional and repetitive administrative process with constant renewal of licences.

He said: "Perhaps operators could be assisted and supported prior to roll-out of the new system, to ensure they have robust food hygiene management systems and regular in-house training to build and maintain best-in-class hygiene standards."

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