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Singapore

New food safety licensing framework to start from 2023, replacing annual grading system

SINGAPORE: Food outlets that have a good track record of food safety will be eligible for longer licences under a new licensing framework that is expected to start from Jan 1, 2023.

This applies to both retail establishments - such as bakeries and caterers - as well as non-retail food establishments, including food manufacturers and slaughterhouses.

About 23,000 establishments will come under the new framework, called Safety Assurance for Food Establishments (SAFE), said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) on Monday (Oct 25). 

The new framework was first announced during the Committee of Supply debate in March 2020.

Though former environment and water resources minister Masagos Zulkifli said then that the framework would be launched this year, SFA said it was mindful of the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and would launch the new framework in 2023 to allow the industry time to recover and "enhance their systems and processes to provide better food safety assurance".  

Food establishments will be awarded Bronze, Silver or Gold, which correspond with a three, five, or 10-year licence duration.

They will be assessed based on their track records, such as having no major food safety lapses over a period of time, as well as being able to put in place systems to strengthen food safety assurance.

The new framework will replace the existing letter-based grading system, which gives grades between A and D based on an "annual snapshot assessment" of their food safety performance, said SFA.

SFA said it would continue to carry out inspections to ensure food establishments comply with food safety requirements.

"While grading assessments have ceased as establishments transit over to the SAFE framework, our inspection regime and routine food safety inspections will continue," it said. 

The agency's deputy chief executive officer Tan Lee Kim said the new framework takes into account the "ongoing performance" of food establishments. 

"This is a better representation of the food establishment’s consistent efforts in food safety assurance and can enable consumers to make better-informed choices,” said Dr Tan, who is also SFA's director-general of food administration.

Food establishments will be divided into three categories, under which the conditions for licensing are set out.

The first category, for instance, is for establishments with "significant food handling practices with higher food safety risks", such as caterers and restaurants. To qualify for a Bronze award - the equivalent of a three-year licence - they should go two years without a "major lapse" and meet the Food Hygiene Officer requirements.

Major lapses include causing a foodborne outbreak or being convicted in court for offences against SFA’s regulations.

The second category covers establishments such as bakeries and cold stores, which are considered to be involved in "moderate food handling and food storage practices with lower food safety risks". 

The third category includes businesses such as supermarkets and the main operators of food courts. They are considered to have minimal food handling and food storage practices, according to SFA's classification.

Such establishments will not receive awards but will qualify for licences based on the number of years they go without a major lapse. 

"Individual food establishments will be notified next year of their award tiers based on their track record of food safety assurance," SFA said, adding they will be given sufficient time to implement the necessary requirements to obtain their desired award tier.

In response to media queries, SFA said food establishments found to have major food safety lapses may be downgraded to a lower award tier.

"They will then be required to demonstrate the required two, five or 10 years of food safety assurance track record before they can proceed to the next tier," it said. 

To support the framework, SFA has also implemented a four-level training framework, which covers areas such as basic food safety principles as well as conducting broader food safety checks and internal audits. 

Source: CNA/az(gs)

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