Do Food Safety Regulations Need To Be Updated for Home-Based Food Businesses?

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Do Food Safety Regulations Need To Be Updated for Home-Based Food Businesses?

Do Food Safety Regulations Need To Be Updated for Home-Based Food Businesses?

Recently, fifteen people fell ill after consuming food from a home-based bakery business. It has since been found that this was at least partly due to salmonella, a bacteria that can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting.

This has prompted questions about whether there is a need to increase food safety regulations for home-based good businesses.

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Food hygiene and safety standards for F&B businesses

As we have covered before, food and beverage retail establishments in Singapore are actually subject to stringent standards set by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). In order to operate, they would require a Food Retail License, and this comes with conditions such as having to first obtain Food Safety Course Level 1 Statements of Attainment (SOA) for food handlers as well as Food hygiene officer certification (for Food caterers, Restaurants, Foodcourts and Canteens only).

Other important conditions related to hygiene includes needing to have a comprehensive cleaning program and a pest control contract.

Besides that, F&B establishments are also subject to the Points Demerit System (PDS). 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 offense, 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, the Environmental Public Health Act states that a license may be suspended or canceled, depending on the licensee’s past record of suspension.

All these means that there are strong systems in place to both prevent and deter F&B businesses from failing to carry out good hygiene and food safety practices.

But what regulations are there for home-based food businesses?

Home-based F&B businesses do face certain specific restrictions, such as 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.

For the most part, however, these home-based businesses are provided with only guidelines for food hygiene and safety, and not actual regulations. Persons who handle and prepare food for a home-based food business are not even required (albeit still highly encouraged) to attend Food Safety Course Level 1.

Is it time to regulate the home-based food industry more stringently?

The Restaurant Association of Singapore, which represents 72 percent (or more than 5,000 restaurants and food outlets) in Singapore, certainly thinks so. Its legal representative argued, in a commentary for the Business Times, that the home-based food and beverage scene has evolved to a scale that is beyond what was initially envisaged by the authorities and that there is an urgent need for the law to keep up.

It is not difficult to see the merits of this argument. The number of home-based F&B businesses has increased by a great multitude over the course of the past two years, spurred on by dining and social restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As conventional dining establishments adapt to home delivery rather than dining-in, sorting out the logistics for delivery and contactless payments, home-based food businesses have been able to take advantage of these new developments. The advent of digital marketing has also meant that these businesses can do up their own slick marketing on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms and gain moderate attention. They are able to essentially become serious businesses masquerading, unintentionally or otherwise, as small home-based operations.

An example would probably be Jeanette Aw, a famous Mediacorp artiste, and celebrity, who began a home-based baking business back in 2020. While she has since opened an actual patisserie, orders for her home baking had reached numbers – over 1000 orders for her brownies within an hour – that most physical bakeries can only dream of.

What have the authorities said about this issue?

In the wake of those 15 people falling ill after consuming food from a home-based bakery, the Singapore Food Agency prohibited the distribution and sale of food prepared by said business and also reminded home-based operatives to observe good food and personal hygiene practices at all times.

It did, however, also continue to state that there was no need for home-based food businesses to be licensed as their food safety risk is considered "small". This is because guidelines by different authorities limit how much food home-based food businesses can prepare and sell.

Many home-based business owners have agreed with the SFA’s call, pointing out that isolated incidents can happen in every industry but that as a whole, the home-based food scene has not let customers down with their handling of food safety and hygiene.

Others have also pointed out that enforcing any regulations for home-based businesses would be an impractical task for the authorities, given the sheer number of homes SFA inspectors would then have to visit and assess.


Admittedly, home-based F&B operations currently do not have a bad track record when it comes to food safety. However, there is also no denying that many of these businesses have sprung up more than expected, both in number and scale, and that the industry has become larger than current oversight, or lack thereof, was meant for. The public may not be easily mollified if it took a more serious outbreak of illness caused by unsafe food from home-based businesses to force the SFA’s hand in taking a more proactive role in presiding over the industry.

UPDATED AS OF 24 Jul 2024
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