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What Must F&B Businesses Do To Comply With Hygiene And Food Safety Standards
Earlier this month, it was reported that a KFC outlet, situated at Oasis Terraces in Punggol, had its food license suspended for two weeks due to incidents involving the “sale of food which is unclean or contain(s) foreign matter”. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) also fined them for S$800.
SFA explained that the KFC outlet committed two offences under the Food Hygiene Regulations in the Environmental Public Health Act, having failed to keep the food "free of foreign matter" when inspected on two separate occasions. This meant that they accumulated twelve demerit points over a 12-month period under SFA’s point system, thus leading to their suspension and fine.
All food handlers working in the suspended premises were also mandated to attend and pass the Food Safety Course Level 1 again before they could resume their jobs once more.
Clearly, Singapore takes its food hygiene and safety seriously. So, what should F&B businesses take note of in order not to run afoul of SFA’s standards?
Obtaining a Food Retail License
All food retail establishments in Singapore must be licensed in order to operate. As such, one would have to apply to SFA for a Food Retail License, such a Food Shop License, Food Stall License, or a Food Private Canteen License.
To do so, one must ensure that they fulfil SFA’s licensing conditions, comprising of documentary, food shop design, and hygiene requirements. These include requirements like:
Receiving approval from the land agency e.g. URA and HDB (referred to as planning permission from land agencies)
Having a tenancy agreement
Obtaining Food Safety Course Level 1 Statements of Attainment (SOA) for food handlers
Food hygiene officer certification (for Food caterers, Restaurants, Foodcourts and Canteens only)
Having a comprehensive cleaning program (applies to catering vehicles as well)
Setting up a pest control contract covering the control of rodents, cockroaches and flies during the year-long licensing period. The inspection frequency of the food shop premises covered in the contract shall be at least once a month to detect any sign of pest infestation.
Having a Food Safety Management Plan (with critical control points identified) or proof of registration for the “WSQ Apply FSMS for Food Service Establishments” course. (For Food Caterers & premises with permission to cater only).
One should then make their application on GoBusiness and then book a pre-licensing inspection. Once everything is in order, SFA will approve the application within 3 working days. A Food Retail License generally costs S$195 and is valid for one year.
Compliance with food hygiene practices & guidelines
Naturally, obtaining a license to run an F&B establishment is not the only step. Licensees are also expected to maintain a high standard of hygiene and food safety. To that end, SFA has a litany of educational materials and guidelines which are meant to be used to educate food handlers and service staff on practices that will ensure food being served is safe for consumption.
Some of these guidelines may seem quite mundane, such as a five-minute video outlining how to wash one’s hands properly (although, in light of Covid-19, one can never be too careful about personal hygiene).
Other guidelines are more technical and in-depth, which includes detailing the temperatures that refrigerators and freezers should be at, and the proper usage of kitchen equipment in handling food.
Cleaning and sanitation practices are also covered, as are ways to prevent pests in food establishments.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions in place, all personnel engaged in the sale and preparation for sale of food and drinks are currently required to wear masks or other forms of physical barrier.
Points Demerit System (PDS)
The Environmental Public Health Act states that a license may be suspended or cancelled if a licensee violates the Act or the Regulations made there under. As mentioned, the KFC outlet in Punggol was found to have committed offences in breach of this Act under the Food Hygiene Regulations.
The Points Demerit system was developed as a systematic and fair approach to deal with the suspension and cancellation of licenses for food hygiene infringements. Under the PDS, depending on the nature of offence, demerit points are given for each public health offence according to the following categories:
Minor offences - 0 demerit point
Major offences - 4 demerit points
Serious offences - 6 demerit points
A list of all the offences and their corresponding demerit points, as well as fines, can be found here.
If a licensee accumulates 12 demerit points or more within 12 months, his license will either be suspended for two weeks or four weeks, or be cancelled, depending on his past record of suspension.
The sale of food online via e-commerce platforms
The sale of food via the Internet through e-commerce platforms, such as online marketplaces, social media platforms and food delivery services, is increasingly prevalent in Singapore. E-commerce platforms themselves do not carry out any handling, cooking or other forms of processing of food and are thus not required to have a license where food safety is concerned.
The food sellers, on the other hand, are subject to food safety and hygiene requirements under the Sale of Food Act (SOFA) and Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA). SFA will take enforcement action for any infringements of these requirements.
The relevant sections of these legislations are as follows:
Section 15 SOFA: Selling unsafe or unsuitable food
(1) A person must not sell food that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is unsafe.
(2) A person must not sell food that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is unsuitable.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), it is immaterial whether the food concerned is safe
(1) No person shall, without lawful excuse, have in his possession for sale by retail any article of food intended for human consumption which is unsound or unfit for human consumption.
Section 40 EPHA: Articles of food unfit for human consumption
Home-based food businesses
The Home-Based Small Scale Business Scheme by HDB and URA allows residents to prepare small quantities of food in their homes for sale. This is meant to allow for food to be prepared only for a very small number of people. As such, there are less requirements to fulfil and one does not have to apply for a SFA license to operate a home-based food business.
Having said that, home-based F&B businesses have their own set of food hygiene guidelines that they need to abide by. Certain specific restrictions include not being allowed to prepare ready-to-eat raw fish for sale as it is considered a high-risk food if it does not go through a cooking process, and home-based operators may not have the proper facility and segregation of processes to handle raw fish properly and cleanly.
Persons who handle and prepare food under this scheme are not required, but still highly encouraged, to attend Food Safety Course Level 1.
Keeping good hygiene standards of utmost importance
As they stated in the KFC case, "SFA will not hesitate to take firm action against anyone found to be in violation of the Environmental Public Health Act." F&B operators should thus be wary of falling short of SFA’s standards.
The legal ramifications aside, the coronavirus pandemic has also shown just how important cleanliness and hygiene is, and it is simply a requirement of human decency to ensure that in providing a product or service – food in this case – one does not cause harm to others. The authorities have provided all the information (and obligations) to do so, it is down to the businesses to make it so.
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