SINGAPORE - An average of 10 suspension notices have been issued each month this year to food outlets. Common offences include failure to register assistants, selling unclean food, dirty premises or equipment, and rodent or cockroach infestation.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has given out 56 suspension notices so far this year.
Among them was Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh’s Bedok outlet, which will be suspended for two weeks from Tuesday (May 30) for three offences, the NEA said in a notice on its website.
The suspension is for preparing food on the floor of the premises, and two counts of failing to keep the premises clean.
Mr Jabez Tan, founder of Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, told The Straits Times on Monday (May 29) that NEA officers had spotted raw pork ribs packed in fully sealed plastic bags in a bucket on the floor in December last year (2016).
The 42-year-old said he did not know that the ribs had to be at least six inches above the floor, and has since made a platform six inches high to place the ribs on at all the outlets.
Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh has four other outlets - at Chinatown Point, Jalan Kayu, One KM Mall and Timbre+ at Ayer Rajah.
Mr Tan said in a post on the eatery chain's Facebook page that "at no time was the food exposed or at risk of being exposed to the floor".
"As the food weighed more than 30kg, it is difficult for our staff to lay them on the table for thawing," he wrote. "We had assumed that the bucket used to store the pork ribs, in addition to the fully sealed bags, would suffice to protect our food against contamination from the ground."
Mr Tan said he now understands that the bucket must be on a raised platform at least six inches above the ground, as per NEA's requirements.
"Nevertheless, it was never our intention to violate the guidelines set out," he wrote.
Although NEA first spotted the violation last December, it took action only in the last two weeks, Mr Tan told ST.
"Last Monday, I appealed but they rejected my appeal," he said. "The suspension starts tomorrow onwards, for two weeks, and the outlet will reopen on June 13."
He said that some of the staff at the outlet will have to stop working and the losses from the suspension amount to $20,000 to $30,000.
Four of the eight to nine employees at the Bedok outlet are ex-convicts, said Mr Tan. He apologised to customers for the issue and sought their patience and continued support for the chain's food and social mission.
He said in his Facebook post that Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh is a business of second chances, that offers ex-convicts another chance to gain employment and rebuild their lives.
"After this incident, we will do our best to ensure that we uphold good hygiene standards and continue to serve our valued customers the best quality of food and service," he wrote.
He told ST that the staff will take this chance to do a thorough clean-up of the outlet, and carry out minor renovations. They also plan to introduce new dishes when they reopen, like curry fish head.