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Food checks on caterers to be a priority this festive season

Checks on food caterers and premises with considerable catering operations will be given priority by Singapore's food inspectors in the coming festive season.

The move, announced yesterday by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), comes in the wake of three major food poisoning incidents that killed one man and affected about 400 people.

With more people dining out and ordering catered food for year-end festivities, the two agencies are stepping up their checks on food establishments as well.

They will also issue licensed caterers and food handlers with advisories and reminders on good personal hygiene practices when preparing and handling food.

On top of that, both agencies said in a joint statement they will hold briefing sessions for stakeholders.

NEA will brief key representatives from the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore and the Restaurant Association of Singapore on the importance of food hygiene and safety.

The associations, which represent caterers and restaurants which provide catering services, will also issue food safety reminders to their members.

NEA and AVA will conduct similar briefings for other major food service operators.

Consumers are also advised by the two agencies to adopt food safety practices.

People should consume catered food within the stipulated "consume by" time, they said. Caterers must time-stamp meals to inform people of the "consume by" time.

Catered meals carry an inherent risk when the food is not consumed immediately after it is prepared, said NEA and AVA in the statement.

Last month, 81 people came down with gastroenteritis after eating bento boxes prepared by Spize Restaurant in River Valley for a Deepavali celebration.

A 38-year-old Sats officer died and at least 45 people were hospitalised after consuming the food.

Eighteen days later, on Nov 24, 190 people fell ill after eating food prepared by TungLok Catering at a Singapore Civil Defence Force event.

Then on Nov 26, 131 kindergarten pupils and teachers had food poisoning after eating meals prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer while attending a kids' camp.

TungLok Catering and Spize's River Valley outlet had their licences suspended, while FoodTalks is under investigation.

NEA did more than 73,000 inspections on establishments that sell food in the first 11 months of this year, said the statement. It led to more than 2,600 enforcement actions being taken over failure to adhere to hygiene regulations, and 84 licences were suspended.

AVA did more than 9,000 inspections of food manufacturers, took nearly 500 enforcement actions and suspended 13 licences.

To safeguard public health, the agencies said they will continue to review the overall framework to increase operators' accountability, and ensure that food establishments are more responsible for the hygiene standards of their premises and operational processes.