To make sure food on our tables is safe, there are Singaporeans who go the distance, as far as to a farm in Thailand's provincial outskirts. Low Yi Lin, accreditation officer at SFA’s Food Regulatory Management division, is one of them.
(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
She is part of a team that looks into accrediting overseas food sources – in other words, evaluating whether a country or establishment is able to export safe food to Singapore.
As part of our food safety system, food that are of higher risk to animal or food-borne diseases – like livestock, meat and eggs – are subjected to more stringent checks, and can only be imported from accredited establishments from approved countries.
The job is no easy feat, having pushed Yi Lin to develop skills from an eye for detail to extensive food science and animal health knowledge.
Stamp of Approval
The accreditation journey starts with scrutinising the export country’s regulatory system, to see if its competent authority has the necessary regulation and oversight of the various farms and food establishments there. This includes looking at the country’s food safety legislation, animal disease status and control measures, among others.
Tool #1: Meticulousness
Going through documents provided by the competent authority detailing things like their food safety system and capabilities is one aspect of Yi Lin’s work. Her team also visits their offices overseas to understand their policies, food safety regime for food establishments, and animal health surveillance for farms.
After a country is approved to export food to Singapore, the food establishment or farm is evaluated individually to ensure it complies with Singapore’s food safety requirements.
Tool #2: Accreditation Checklist
Each year, Yi Lin and her team will review and plan the list of countries and export establishments overseas to inspect. They take into account the food safety and animal health standards of countries that have applied to export food to Singapore, as well as the potential for countries to export to Singapore, gleaned from industry feedback.
For example, during an engagement with the industry, Spain was raised as a potential new source for eggs. After assessing whether Spain could be a viable source of eggs, SFA kick-started the accreditation process and Spain was successfully accredited earlier this year.
Yi Lin has hit the roads in many countries, from Thailand to Spain, to inspect layer farms. On her checklist would be criteria like whether the farm has biosecurity measures, or whether it has satisfactory animal health management and disease surveillance programmes.
Yi Lin’s work impacts more than food safety of our supply. A wide pool of accredited sources gives importers more choices and will help reduce reliance on any one source which in turn, enhances Singapore’s food security.
“To support our industry in diversification, my team has been accrediting new egg sources that meet our food safety standards. Since 2016, the number of approved sources for egg import has increased by over 50 per cent. Importers can choose from 75 farms in 11 countries to bring in eggs.”
Tool #3: Food Science and animal health knowledge
Yi Lin’s background in food science and animal health is put to good use when it comes to understanding and assessing different establishments’ manufacturing and farming practices. Still, that doesn’t mean she stops learning.
The 33-year-old makes sure she keeps up to date with the latest international guidelines and standards on food and animal health. She also exchanges insights from inspections and audits with her colleagues in SFA.
Insights from the field also come in handy. For example, she has put knowledge on animal health – picked up from inspections of local farms - to use when reviewing eggs and livestock farms overseas.
An integrated system
The work doesn’t stop after the country and export establishment have been accredited.
“Accreditation is only the beginning. When the food reaches our shores, the rest of SFA’s food safety system kicks in,” Yi Lin explains. Accreditation is supplemented by other downstream measures such as post-import inspection and surveillance, sampling and laboratory analysis.
The journey to ensuring and securing a safe food supply is long, but Yi Lin believes it is worth it. “Ultimately, our food supply needs to be anchored on a strong foundation of food safety.”
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Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020