SINGAPORE - 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 on Tuesday (April 16), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and two agencies said a multi-pronged approach involving caterers, pre-school staff, parents and children was 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 give 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 March and April, more than 250 staff and children were affected, including 31 children who had to be hospitalised.
Catering company Kate's Catering, which served the centres, was suspended following the incidents.
The newly-set up SFA, established under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources on April 1, said in the statement that 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 also take action against pre-schools which fail to meet its requirements for proper food safety and personal hygiene.
ECDA said it has been working with MOH and SFA - which came previously under the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority - 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 soiled premises and materials.
A joint advisory by ECDA, the SFA and the MOH was also issued to pre-schools in March to emphasise the importance of good food hygiene practices and infection control measures.
ECDA also reminded parents not to send their sick children 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 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.
The agency will also press for deterrent sentences if necessary, it said.