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In light of the upcoming festive season, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) would like to remind food operators and consumers to be vigilant and to practise good food, personal and environmental hygiene habits.
A significant number of gastroenteritis incidents tend to occur during the Oct-Mar period. During this festive season, more consumers dine out, order catered food or purchase cooked/ready-to-eat food for celebrations.
Gastroenteritis is a condition characterised by the inflammation of one's stomach and intestines. Common symptoms include diarrhoea/vomiting, depending on whether the condition is caused by bacteria/bacterial toxins or viruses.
Bacterial gastroenteritis (BGE) outbreaks are caused by bacteria, such as salmonella, that was introduced into food due to poor food preparation practices. Viral gastroenteritis (VGE) outbreaks are caused by viruses, such as norovirus, which can be transmitted in various ways.
Norovirus can be transmitted from person to person or via contaminated food/water and surfaces in common areas. These are a result of improper food handling, environmental cleaning and poor hand hygiene.
Based on available data, the Ministry of Health (MOH) estimates that 69% of gastroenteritis incidents in Singapore were due to the consumption of contaminated food items.
The remaining 31% were due to viruses that were transmitted from person-to-person or due to contact with contaminated environments.
Ahead of the festive period, SFA has issued an advisory to all food operators to ensure food hygiene and safety.
SFA has reminded operators of food retail establishments to ensure all their food handlers have attended the requisite basic hygiene training and are registered with SFA. They are also to make sure that food handlers don't engage in any food preparation if they are unwell.
Food operators must also ensure they have adequate capacity to handle their orders and maintain a proper system to manage orders they take on during this festive period so that food hygiene and public health won't be compromised.
SFA has also been working closely with the relevant agencies and industry to strengthen safeguards for food safety and hygiene.
Given the incidents of VGE outbreaks in preschools earlier this year and the greater vulnerability of young children, SFA worked with the Early Childhood Development Agency and MOH to conduct briefing sessions for food handlers and cleaners in preschools and to promote good personal, food and environmental hygiene practices.
Almost 1,200 participants attended the sessions and they reported that the briefing was a useful reminder of food safety and hygiene practices.
SFA is also engaging key representatives from the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore (ACAPS), the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) and the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) about the importance of food hygiene and safety.
While SFA will work closely with other government agencies to safeguard food hygiene and safety, SFA would like to urge consumers to be vigilant and support efforts to ensure food hygiene and safety.
Consumers should follow SFA’s guide for eating safely.
In particular, consumers should be aware that every catered meal carries an inherent risk since catered food is prepared in bulk and in advance.
SFA requires caterers to adopt a Food Safety Management System to ensure that good practices are observed in the preparation of catered meals, and to time-stamp meals to inform consumers of the recommended 'consume by' time.
At the same time, consumers should consume the food as soon as possible, within the stipulated 'consume by' time.
Consumers should only engage licensed caterers, whose track records (hygiene grading, number of demerit points and suspension history) are available on SFA's website.
While people can come down with gastroenteritis if they consume contaminated food, the same viruses, bacteria or bacterial toxins can also be transmitted through the environment or infected persons.
Vomit of an infected person is likely to be infectious and can lead to the transmission of virus from person-to-person.
Besides food safety, SFA would like to encourage all parties to ensure good environmental and personal hygiene to prevent gastroenteritis incidents.
In particular, places serving more vulnerable groups, such as preschools, should exercise good and appropriate cleaning practices to prevent the spread of gastroenteritis.
Members of the public should also observe good personal hygiene by: