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 a spate of recent cases.
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 enhancement of the penalty regime is currently under review.
Currently, first-time offenders under the Environmental Public Health Act face a maximum fine of $10,000, while repeat offenders face a fine of up to $20,000, three months in jail or both.
The NEA and AVA will also press for deterrent sentences to be imposed by the court, where appropriate.
The authorities will start taking the harsher measures with immediate effect to further safeguard public health and strengthen Singapore's food safety regime, the NEA and AVA said in a joint statement yesterday.
The measures come on the heels of four cases of major food poisoning outbreaks last month and this month that killed one and affected about 600 people.
MAJOR FOOD POISONING OUTBREAKS IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER
1 - Number of people who died.
600 - Number of people affected.
The food poisoning outbreaks were caused by food prepared by Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel, FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer, TungLok Catering at Singapore Expo, and Spize restaurant in River Valley Road.
Last week, the authorities said no link was found between the four cases, even as they identified hygiene lapses at the establishments involved, including improperly cleaned vomit and lack of soap for washing hands.
Another move that went into immediate effect requires staff appointed as food hygiene officers at eateries to go for training again under an NEA scheme 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.
The NEA and AVA added that they have completed most of their additional checks on food establishments that provide catering services and other premises with substantial catering operations during the festive period.
All of the inspections will be completed by the 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 stick to good hygiene practices while preparing and handling food.
NEA also reinforced the importance of food hygiene and safety to representatives of the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore and the Restaurant Association of Singapore on Dec 11 and 13.
"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 authorities.
Meanwhile, the licences of Mandarin Orchard's banquet kitchen and TungLok Catering's kitchen at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo remain suspended. The NEA had previously said that it would 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 affects only one of its kitchens. "The findings are clear, and we will not let this happen again," he said.
Mandarin Orchard said that the hotel 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 staff are trained in and observe proper personal hygiene and food handling practices.
FoodTalks declined to comment, but said it is still operating.