Singapore has relocated its national reference laboratory for food science and held a roundtable on novel food regulations.

The National Centre for Food Science (NCFS) is the scientific arm of the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and the new site was officially opened at the end of October.

The national reference lab plays a role in food safety by providing scientific expertise and performing applied research, risk assessment studies, data analytics, and lab diagnosis. It also has testing services to support the investigation of foodborne outbreaks, and works on developing advanced lab capabilities to counter threats from emerging hazards. 

Capabilities include techniques such as non-targeted analysis, metagenomics and predictive analytics. NCFS has used such methods to screen for unknown chemicals in leafy vegetables to inform food safety risk assessment. 

New technology and regulation
“For food poisoning outbreak investigations, NCFS leverages whole genome sequencing to obtain genetic information about bacteria or other germs. Compared to gold standard traditional laboratory techniques, this enables more accurate testing by 10 to 15 percent in an outbreak,” said Grace Fu, minister for sustainability and the environment.  

“In a recent food poisoning outbreak, NCFS used WGS to investigate what caused the outbreak. The same bacteria that was detected in the sick people was also found in the raw seafood, suggesting cross-contamination between raw and cooked food. This helped to identify the food safety lapses at the premise, and determine the mitigating measures required.”

NCFS has also developed a mobile lab that is able to conduct onsite testing and rapidly detect radionuclides, common foodborne pathogens as well as pesticides and residues. It is also a regional World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Food Contamination Monitoring.

The previous set-up involved two labs. Consolidation streamlines operations and improves accessibility for inspectors to submit samples for testing, said the SFA.

“This new facility with sustainability in the design, is housed with cutting-edge technologies, bringing together a multidisciplinary team of experts to provide monitoring, expert assessment, research and reference activities locally and internationally, to advance our mission to ensure food safety in Singapore,” said Chan Sheot Harn, adjunct associate professor and NCFS director.

Singapore is also working on a Food Safety and Security Bill. This will bring together food-related provisions across eight existing laws into one act.

The bill is expected to provide greater legal clarity on the regulatory framework for new food innovations, such as novel food and gene-edited crops. At the moment, initial engagements with industry associations and key stakeholders are being carried out.

Novel food event
A Roundtable on Novel Food Regulations was held in late October. About 250 people discussed challenges in safety assessment, the regulatory approach and food innovations.

The event covered risk assessments of various types of novel food and how to develop standards in cell-based meat and seafood, food ingredients from precision fermentation, and microbial proteins.

An example of cell-based meat is Eat Just, Inc.’s cultivated chicken, which was permitted for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in their nugget product since December 2020.

Speakers included Masami Takeuchi, food safety officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Rick Mumford, deputy chief scientific advisor at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and Michelle Catlin, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Finally, KG Catering Pte has been fined $6,000 (U.S. $4,400) in court for multiple hygiene offences under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations.

Between September 2022 and March 2023, the Singapore Food Agency and Ministry of Health received reports of three separate incidents of sickness involving 92 people, which were traced to food supplied by the company.

Three inspections at the firm found multiple food safety lapses, such as cockroach and rodent infestations, improper storage of food and poorly maintained premises. SFA suspended the business from November 2022 to February 2023. Sanctions were lifted after issues were corrected.

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