SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) conducted more than 2,400 checks on food caterers last year, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament on Monday (Jan 14).
Dr Khor was responding to questions from several Members of Parliament on what the authorities are doing to reduce incidences of mass food poisoning.
"On top of these routine checks, over 900 additional inspections have been conducted since last month on food operators that provide catering services or that have substantial catering operations," she said.
Additionally, NEA has also had discussions with key representatives from the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore and the Restaurant Association of Singapore to further reinforce the importance of food hygiene and safety.
NEA and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority have also stepped up surveillance and engagement of all food operators, said Dr Khor.
SLEW OF OUTBREAKS
Food caterers have been in the spotlight following a spate of food poisoning outbreaks in November and December last year, with the most serious of them involving a fatality. Authorities said the outbreaks are unrelated.
Auxiliary police officer Fadli Salleh, 38, died on Nov 14 after consuming a bento box lunch supplied by Spize from its River Valley outlet. More than 80 people fell ill with more than 20 hospitalised after consuming their bento boxes.
NEA has terminated the operating licence of Spize Restaurant at River Valley Road and will also press charges against the operator in Court.
On Nov 24, 190 people fell ill with symptoms of gastroenteritis after consuming food prepared by restaurant group TungLok's catering arm.
The operating licences of Tung Lok, as well as the ballroom and affected kitchen in Mandarin Hotel, will remain suspended until the operators have complied with requirements imposed by NEA.
On Nov 26, more than 130 students and teachers fell ill after consuming food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer while attending a kids' camp. NEA said it will fine the operator.
And on Dec 5, banquet operations at Mandarin Orchard Singapore were suspended after 175 people fell ill with food poisoning and nine were hospitalised in four separate event held at the Grand Ballroom.
In Parliament, Dr Khor also revealed that NEA conducted 77,000 inspections on food establishments last year. These included inspections for licence renewals and surprise ad-hoc inspections.
"We adopt a risk-based approach to inspections," Dr Khor added, pointing out that food establishments that cater to more people or handle larger volumes of food - such as caterers - are subjected to more checks.
Dr Khor also reiterated that consumers should only engage licensed caterers and consume catered food within the stipulated "consume by" time period.
"Consumers who come across poor hygiene practices in food establishments should provide feedback to the authorities for further investigation," she stated.
To that end, Dr Khor said NEA will improve its website and the myENV app to make it easier for consumers to check food operators' hygiene records.
"We are also looking into measures to better notify the public about a food operator’s licence suspension," she added.
NEA previously said that as of November, it had taken more than 2,600 enforcement actions against food operators that had flouted hygiene regulations, suspending a total of 84 licences.
"Even as we operate a stringent regulatory regime, food operators bear the ultimate responsibility to serve safe and clean food to their customers," Dr Khor said.
"They must ensure that their premises are kept clean, food handlers practice good hygiene and the food prepared is safe for consumption."