(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
A senior executive at SFA’s Central Regional Office in the Compliance Management Division, she is responsible for inspecting food retail establishments in the central region of our little red dot, to ensure they meet our food safety and hygiene standards. This includes restaurants, caterers, pubs, hawker centres, supermarkets, ’pasar malams’, local and international food fairs and events such as the ongoing Christmas food carnival at the Marina Bay district.
With around 19,500 food establishments across central Singapore, Ka Man and her team spend a large part of their time on the ground, conducting inspections on these establishments.
These include restaurants, caterers, hawker centres, supermarkets, ’pasar malams’ and pubs.
Despite the differences between these establishments, all of them have the same responsibility — to ensure that any food that they prepare and serve to the public is safe for consumption.
TOOL #1 - Checklist & iPad
During each inspection, Ka Man meticulously goes through a checklist on her iPad to ensure that food safety standards and regulations are met.
This includes checking whether food is thawed properly, stored at the correct temperature, and prepared in a clean and hygienic manner.
If she spots any lapses, she will flag it out to the licensee and ask him or her to rectify it immediately. For more severe lapses, the licensee will also be issued with a summons and given demerit points. Under the Points Demerit System, if a licensee accumulates 12 demerits points or more within 12 months, his or her licence will either be suspended for two to four weeks, or be cancelled, depending on his or her past record of suspension.
Sometimes, Ka Man and her team’s working hours stretch well into the night as they have to inspect food establishments such as night clubs and bars, which only operate in the night.
FOOD SAFETY - A JOINT RESPONSIBILITY
In carrying out these inspections, Ka Man hopes that food operators would not see her or SFA as making it difficult for them to do their job, but instead as a partner in ensuring food safety in Singapore.
“I tell them that I can’t be there 24/7 to check that they’re doing the right thing, and they must also do their part to ensure that the food they sell issafe.”
TOOL #2 - Standing firm
In her nine years of inspecting food establishments, Ka Man has also learnt to take things in her stride and remain resolute in her work.
She shares that a misconception some food operators have is that she has a quota to hit, or that she receives a commission whenever she issues them a summons or written warning.
“When we identify a lapse in the licensee’s kitchen and have to take enforcement action, the licensee may sometimes turn nasty or plead with us for another chance.”
Faced with such situations, Ka Man explains firmly to the licensee that they have to adhere to the food safety rules and regulation.
“The industry has to make sure they have proper standards and practices in place to ensure that the food they prepare is safe. After all, there is no substitute for food safety.”
INCULCATING GOOD FOOD SAFETY PRACTICES
Ka Man’s interest in food safety and the food industry was piqued when she took on a part-time job at a fast food chain during her younger days.
“The hygiene manager at the outlet had a way of speaking and making sure everyone of us working there had a good understanding of food safety, and followed these practices diligently.”
This experience made her realise the importance and value of educating others, and drew her to step into a role of an inspector, allowing her to help others understand the importance of food safety in the process.
TOOL #3 - EDUCATION
While inspecting food establishments, she takes the opportunity to drive home the message of good food safety and hygiene practices to food operators, and ensure that they inculcate these habits and pass them on to other staff.
“When I share with the aunties at the hawker centre stalls on hygiene practices, some of them are doubtful or point out that they have been working in the food industry for a longer time than me.
In such cases, I will explain to them that times have changed — as new food safety issues arise, we need to educate them on the new standards and regulations that they have to follow to ensure proper food safety and hygiene.”
TOOL #4 - TEAMWORK
With the vast number of food establishments Ka Man and her team has to oversee, it is definitely no easy task — one that requires coordination and a well-oiled team.
Take for example, the ongoing food carnival at the Marina Bay district which runs over the Christmas period till New Year’s Day.
With over 30 food stalls at the carnival, Ka Man’s team readily offers to pitch in and help her with the inspections.
On the first day of the carnival, the team splits themselves across the various food stalls and makes their way down each row to inspect the stalls and food handlers.
The work doesn’t end there though. To ensure that the food stalls continue to maintain good food safety standards, Ka Man and her team inspect the food stalls across different days, including Christmas.
With large-scale events involving food such as the Singapore Grand Prix, National Day Parade and Christmas food markets often held across the weekends and public holidays, Ka Man and her team have had to give up their holidays and personal time for such inspections.
Asked if she has any qualms about this, Ka Man shares that it is an important role – one that she gladly does to ensure that consumers can eat with peace of mind.