SINGAPORE: Hiring in-house cooks to prepare meals for pre-school children is the preferred option as it is cleaner and healthier, said childcare centres CNA spoke to.
It is an issue that has come under the spotlight recently after a spate of food poisoning cases at 13 PCF Sparkletots centres, which affected 251 people, including 12 members of staff.
The outbreak has been traced to the consumption of food prepared by Kate’s Catering, which has had 30 years of experience as caterers.
Of the three childcare centres CNA spoke to, St James Kindergarten (Gilstead Campus) uses a caterer. Mulberry Learning and Twinklekidz Playhouse (Toa Payoh) employ in-house cooks.
All three, however, agree that in-house cooking is preferred to using a caterer, as it allows the centre to have more control over the quality of food served.
“We chose not to (cater food) in order to have proper control over the source and type of ingredients used, as well as the safety of the entire food preparation process," said chief operating officer of Mulberry Learning Peh Yi Han.
“When it comes to food safety, there’s really no compromise, so we do what we can to ensure our children are given the best nutrition possible,” he added.
Other than following the Health Promotion Board's prescribed meal guidelines, Mulberry Learning also works with qualified nutritionists from health and nutrition firm GNC to create its menus.
Twinklekidz Playhouse (Toa Payoh) principal Wendy Lee believes that catered food will not be able to provide for the individual needs of each childcare centre.
"Caterers have to be fast, while in-house cooks don’t have that issue of time," she said, describing the catering process as "mass production".
She also observed that parents generally indicated their preference for meals to be prepared in-house.
One of them is sales executive Paul Ong, father of a five-year-old who has been attending Mulberry Learning for three years.
“Catering will have additional costing,” he said. “Sometimes catering does not mean more clean.”
Human resources advisor Fanny Neo said she remains concerned about food safety and hygiene standards at her four-year-old son's PCF Sparkletots pre-school, even though it was not affected by the recent food poisoning outbreak.
“The food in school is very important from a nutritional standpoint and a health and safety standpoint,” she said, adding that in-house cooking is preferred as the food is "fresh" and there is a lower risk of it "getting sour".
At St James Kindergarten’s Gilstead Campus, principal Alison Wah said she has been sourcing for an in-house cook. The school had to cater food for students after its previous cook resigned.
It is difficult to find a replacement, she said, due to the workload of cooking for a centre with about 400 students.
“It’s definitely not easy (for the cooks) for the volume of children we have, as we are a big school,” she said. “The cook has to do the preparation and the washing of pots and utensils.”
At the moment, they are using two to three caterers on a trial basis, but have not settled on any one.