Stiffer penalty for food outlets which flout hygiene rules

The operators of coffeeshops, food courts and canteens will have their operations suspended if they chalk up 12 demerit points within 12 months for failing to keep their premises clean under stricter rules that will come into effect from March 1.

Currently, operations will be suspended only when they chalk up 24 demerit points.

The rules apply only to operators who are responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of premises, such as food courts. There is a separate set of rules that apply to those who handle food.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), in a media release on Thursday, said it will also step up inspections of food outlets with poor track records to raise their cleanliness and hygiene standards.

Common offences found at such premises include lapses in toilet cleanliness and maintenance, failure to keep premises free of pest infestation and not keeping the premises clean, for example, poor table cleaning and dirty dining areas. Besides paying a fine for such infringements, operators also chalk up demerit points for each of these offences, and face a three day suspension if they exceed the threshold set.

Approximately 2,300 operators of such premises have been informed of this change through letters. Previous demerit points accumulated in the past year would also be erased so that every operator starts on a clean slate on March 1.

The NEA had been stepping up inspection since November 2011. Operators with poor track records in toilet cleanliness and/or pest infestation were checked at least six times every three months. The increase in inspections has seen a doubling of tickets issued to operators for lapses in these areas.

From 2011 to 2012, the number of tickets issued to operators of coffeeshops, food courts and canteens for lapses in toilet cleanliness increased from 131 to 236 and for pest infestation from 28 to 49.