Boost in efforts to reduce food poisoning in pre-schools

Food handlers and cleaners who service pre-schools will be briefed on good hygiene practices, as part of a multi-pronged approach involving caterers, pre-school staff, parents and children to reduce food poisoning in pre-schools.
Food handlers and cleaners who service pre-schools will be briefed on good hygiene practices, as part of a multi-pronged approach involving caterers, pre-school staff, parents and children to reduce food poisoning in pre-schools.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Multi-pronged plan to include briefings, new guidelines, reminders and stepped-up checks

Food handlers and cleaners who service pre-schools will attend a briefing later this month on good hygiene practices, after a spate of food poisoning hit 13 PAP Community Foundation kindergartens and the Plan Student Care Centre.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and two agencies said a multi-pronged approach involving caterers, pre-school staff, parents and children is needed to reduce the incidence of gastroenteritis in pre-schools.

For pre-schools that provide catered food, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will work with the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to issue guidelines on the proper handling, storage and consumption of food when it is delivered.

Gastroenteritis causes diarrhoea or vomiting and can be caused by viruses, bacteria or bacterial toxins.

In the food poisoning incidents in the past two months, more than 250 staff and children were affected, including 31 children who were hospitalised.

Catering company Kate's Catering, which served the centres, was suspended following the incidents.

The SFA, established under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources on April 1, said food operators who fail to comply with its food hygiene and safety regulations will face enforcement actions such as suspensions or having their licences cancelled.

"All SFA-licensed food establishments must ensure that food hygiene and safety regulations are adhered to. This includes having the necessary infrastructure and trained expertise to ensure safe food preparation, handling and sale of food."

Similarly, ECDA said it would take action against pre-schools that fail to meet its requirements for proper food safety and personal hygiene.

ECDA said it has been working with MOH and SFA since the end of last year to step up health and hygiene checks during routine visits to pre-schools.

In February, ECDA disseminated food hygiene guidelines to pre-schools and briefed operators and principals on measures to ensure food was safe to eat and to properly disinfect premises and materials.

In the food poisoning incidents in the past two months, more than 250 staff and children were affected, including 31 children hospitalised.

A joint advisory by ECDA, the SFA and the MOH was also issued to pre-schools last month to emphasise the importance of good food hygiene practices and infection control measures.

ECDA also reminded parents not to let their sick children go to school as infectious diseases can be spread from person to person or through contaminated surfaces.

"Even after recovery, an infected person can continue to shed viruses or bacteria in the stool for several weeks. Hence, it is important for parents to reinforce good personal hygiene practices in children to both prevent the spread of disease and to protect oneself from acquiring infections."

Beyond pre-schools, the Government has also taken more measures to hold food operators accountable after a serious incident of food poisoning involving the Spize restaurant in River Valley Road resulted in a death last November.

The SFA said food establishments found committing serious food safety or hygiene offences will be prosecuted in court.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $10,000, and repeat offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to three months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'Boost in efforts to reduce food poisoning in pre-schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe