SINGAPORE - Amid growing interest in vending machines that dispense ready-to-eat meals, a set of guidelines has been drawn up to help operators ensure food safety and good hygiene practices.
It was launched on Friday (July 21) at VendFest, an exhibition of nine food vending operators that dispense dishes such as rice dumplings, pizza and chilli crab.
VendFest, held in conjunction with the month-long AsiaMalls Foodie Festival YAS! and supported by Spring Singapore, will run until July 27 at the atrium of Tampines 1. Exhibitors include Saybons, House of Seafood, JR Vending and U-Market Place, which manufactures rice dumplings under the Joo Chiat Kim Choo brand.
The guidelines for the food vending industry, launched at the event by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, were developed by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation-Standards Development Organisation (SMF-SDO) and Spring in consultation with industry members.
It covers areas such as design and structure, cleanliness and maintenance, food hygiene and temperature controls, food transportation and the location of the machines.
The document, which is available for purchase from the Singapore Standards eShop, will also help operators who require a licence from the National Environment Agency (NEA) during the planning process to ensure they meet its requirements.
Since Dec 2016, food vending machines which require temperature control or in-machines food preparation must obtain a licence from NEA. Among its requirements are the installation of a temperature-measuring device to ensure that frozen, chilled and hot foods are kept at specified temperatures, and an indication of the production and consume-by dates on pre-packed food.
Speaking at the launch, Ms Low noted that a growing number of companies are implementing vending machines and selling ready meals following a Government push for the food services sector to adopt more innovative and manpower-lean formats amid a tight labour market.
The food services industry employs about 170,000 workers across more than 7,000 F&B establishments. Vending machines use 70 to 90 per cent fewer workers than a typical food stall, according to a 2015 study commissioned by Spring, which support businesses keen on adopting such formats.
Vending machine "cafes" now operate in the heartlands, while about 30 companies, including the nine at VendFest, will be installing new machines within the next year, Ms Low said.
Food vending machines, which operate around the clock, provide variety and convenience to consumers, though "as with any new food technology, hygiene and safety are two very important factors," she said.
JR Vending, which operates four VendCafes at housing estates and MRT stations as well as over 100 Chef in Box machines islandwide, will be among the first to adopt the standard.
JR Group chief executive Jocelyn Chng, who was one of the industry players consulted during the guide's development, said: "The F&B industry is undergoing an exciting transformation with vending machines being one of the productive solutions to help local food companies reach out to a wider market. The launch of (the guidelines) is timely and necessary in setting standards for the vending industry."
Ms Joey Oh, deputy chief executive of U-Market Place, said that she initially struggled with understanding the requirements to obtain an NEA licence for her vending machines, which dispense salted and nyonya rice dumplings hot.
The company launched its first machine at Holland Ave in May with the help of Spring, and hopes to have 10 machines islandwide within a year.
"We went into vending because ours is a very traditional food, and we want to capture the younger generation. Manpower has also been a big problem for retail," she said.
"The guide will definitely be helpful for businesses in getting the NEA licence, and I think having these high standards will help consumers to feel safe."