The National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) are to step up checks on food sites during the holiday season.

The agencies told all operators and consumers to practice good food and personal hygiene because safe preparation and food handling will minimize the risk of food poisoning.

As of Nov. 30, NEA had conducted more than 73,000 inspections on food retail sites, taken more than 2,600 enforcement actions against retail operators who failed to comply with hygiene regulations, and suspended 84 licenses. AVA had done more than 9,000 inspections on food manufacturers, taken almost 500 enforcement actions against licensees who failed to comply with regulations and suspended 13 licenses.

NEA is also working with the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore (ACAPS) and the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) on the importance of food hygiene and safety.

NEA and AVA will be prioritizing inspections to focus on the licensees that provide catering services and other premises with substantial catering operations. Inspectors will provide advisory guidance and remind licensees and food handlers on proper food and personal hygiene practices.

Operators must have adequate capacity and maintain a proper system to handle orders during the festive period, including for take-out services, to ensure food hygiene and public health are not compromised.

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Catering operations involve advance preparation of large quantities of food for consumption at a later time. Caterers are required to time-stamp meals to inform consumers of the recommended ‘consume by’ time, which is four hours from the time a cooked dish is placed at the temperature danger zone of between 5 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius.

NEA and AVA said there will be an increase in the number of consumers dining out and ordering catered food during the festive season so it is important for operators to ensure food is prepared hygienically and is safe for consumption.

Operators of food retail establishments are advised to ensure food handlers have attended basic hygiene training, are registered with NEA and that they do not prepare food if sick.

Advice to consumers includes selecting food carefully, separating raw and cooked food, keeping it at the correct temperature, washing and keeping clean and cooking food well.

NEA and AVA warned that food in damaged packaging can be contaminated by microorganisms and food safety and quality may be compromised if an item has expired or turned moldy.

The agencies advised raw food should be handled and consumed with care. When it is mixed with cooked food, juices from the raw meat or seafood with microorganisms may be transferred to the cooked form, also known as cross contamination. As a general precaution, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and immune-compromised people should avoid eating raw or uncooked food.

The public should also take note of food that requires more effort in cooking well, such as meat patties where meat becomes more exposed to bacteria in the process of mincing, barbequed meat, whole poultry and seafood.

Consumers can prevent food from becoming contaminated by washing and keeping hands, food and the environment clean. Common serving spoons should be used when sharing food, and hands washed thoroughly with soap and water before eating.

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