As more dine out, order catered food, or buy food for celebrations, it is important for food operators, preschools, and consumers to be vigilant and practise good hygiene.
Food is often a major part of any celebration. With the current school holidays and upcoming festive season, more consumers tend to dine out, order catered food, or purchase cooked food.
In light of this, food operators and consumers need to be vigilant and practise good food, personal, and environmental hygiene. This is important in preventing incidents such as gastroenteritis, which tend to occur during the October-March period.
What is gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis (commonly known as food poisoning) is a condition characterised by the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhoea or vomiting, depending on whether it is caused by bacteria/bacterial toxins or viruses.
Bacterial gastroenteritis outbreaks are caused by bacteria such as Salmonella introduced into food due to poor food preparation practices.
Viral gastroenteritis outbreaks are caused by viruses such as Norovirus, which can be transmitted in a number of ways. For example, Norovirus can be transmitted from person to person or via contaminated food/water and surfaces in common areas, as a result of improper food handling, environmental cleaning and poor hand hygiene.
Based on available data, the Ministry of Health (MOH) estimates that 69 percent of gastroenteritis incidents in Singapore have been due to food that is contaminated with bacteria or viruses. The remaining 31 percent were due to viruses transmitted from person to person or contact with contaminated environments.
What should food operators pay attention to?
Operators of food retail establishments should ensure that all their food handlers have attended the requisite basic hygiene training and are registered with SFA, and that food handlers do not engage in any food preparation if they are unwell.
Food operators must also ensure that they have adequate capacity to handle their orders and maintain a proper system to manage the orders that they take on during this festive period, including for take-out services, to ensure that food hygiene and public health are not compromised.
In addition, SFA requires caterers to adopt a Food Safety Management System to ensure that good practices are observed in the preparation of catered meals, and to time-stamp the meals to inform consumers of the recommended 'consume by' time.
How do consumers play a role?
SFA encourages consumers to be vigilant and support efforts to ensure food hygiene and safety. To minimise the risk of food poisoning to you and your guests during the festive season, follow SFA’s food safety guide when ordering catered meals, eating out, or purchasing cooked / ready-to-eat meals.
In addition, buy food only from licensed food establishments. To make a more informed choice when deciding which food establishment to patronise or engage, look for track records (hygiene grading, number of demerit points and suspension history) of the food establishment on go.gov.sg/sfa-food-retail-licence.
Given the incidents of viral gastroenteritis outbreaks in preschools earlier in the year and the greater vulnerability of young children, SFA worked with the Early Childhood Development Agency and Ministry of Health to strengthen food safety and hygiene.
Joint briefing sessions were conducted for food handlers and cleaners in preschools to reinforce their knowledge of good personal, food, and environmental hygiene practices. About 1,200 participants attended these sessions.
SFA also engaged with the catering, hotel, and restaurant associations, and urged them to remind their members of the importance of food hygiene and safety.
Joint responsibility in ensuring environmental and personal hygiene
Besides through consuming contaminated food, the same viruses, bacteria, or bacterial toxins can also be transmitted through the environment or infected persons.
For instance, the vomit of an infected person is likely to be infectious and can lead to the transmission of virus from person to person. Contaminated surfaces, if not cleaned thoroughly, may also contribute to spreading the virus.
As such, besides food safety, all parties have to ensure good environmental and personal hygiene to prevent gastroenteritis incidents. In particular, venues serving people who are more vulnerable, such as preschool children, should exercise good and appropriate cleaning practices to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis.
Members of the public can observe good personal hygiene by:
SFA steps up vigilance and inspection
Ahead of this festive period, SFA reminded all food operators to ensure that food sold at food retail establishments is prepared hygienically and safe for consumption.
SFA has also stepped up inspections of licensees that provide catering services and premises with substantial catering operations during this period. Our inspectors will remind licensees and food handlers on proper food and personal hygiene practices. Should any hygiene infringements be observed, enforcement actions will be taken against the errant food operator. We will also require the food operator to rectify the non-compliance.
Top 3 common hygiene-related infringements committed by licensees of food retail establishments in 2018:
Between April and August 2019, SFA conducted more than:
To further safeguard food safety and hygiene, SFA is also reviewing regulatory controls for caterers and will continue to engage with stakeholders.
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Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020