|Agenda Item 9||Conference Room Document 28|
FAO/WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Asia and the Pacific
Seremban, Malaysia, 24-27 May 2004
Examples of Singapore's Infectious Disease Surveillance
and Information Sharing Platforms
Food safety and the control of food-borne diseases are integral components of public health. Despite heavy reliance on food imports, Singaporeans today enjoy a food supply that stands as one of the safest in the world. This safeguarding of public health against outbreaks of food-borne disease is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health working in concert with two agencies, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) under the Minister for National Development and the National Environment Agency (NEA) under the Ministry of the Environment.
The food safety and hygiene legislation includes the Sale of Food Act, Food Regulations, the Environmental Public Health Act, the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations; the Animals and Birds Act; the Slaughter-houses and Meat Processing Factories Act; the Control of Plants Act; the Wholesome Meat and Fish Act; the Fisheries Act; the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act; the Feeding Stuffs Act; and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority Act. These laws provide for high standards of food safety and hygiene, and are administered through the AVA and NEA.
AVA is responsible for ensuring a resilient supply of safe food. It regulates the safety of food from production, import to just prior to retail. The agency also sets and enforces food safety standards and oversees food labelling. It adopts an integrated food safety management system to ensure that imported and locally produced foods are safe for human consumption. Specific programmes exist for the inspection of imported food, imported livestock, local poultry and pig slaughter-houses, local food processing establishments, cold stores as well as local farms.
Import control in Singapore is an important dimension of the food safety system as more than 90% of the nation’s food is imported. Sources supplying to Singapore must meet the import requirements for food safety. AVA accredits overseas establishments that export meat, meat products, livestock and eggs to Singapore to ensure that requirements for biosecurity, freedom from diseases and food safety standards are met. It also has in place inspection and sampling programmes for food imported into Singapore.
AVA licenses local poultry and pig slaughter-houses, food processing establishments, cold-stores and farms and undertakes regular inspection of these premises to ensure the safety of the food produced and manufactured. It is also responsible for the issue of export health certificates for local food processing establishments to export their products.
NEA’s primary role is to ensure that all food sold at food retail outlets are prepared hygienically and are safe for consumption. It takes a pro-active approach in ensuring good food hygiene at the retail food outlets, and has implemented several programmes to achieve this over the years. To ensure that food handlers appreciate and practice good food and personal hygiene, any person wishing to work in the retail food trade as a food handler is required to pass the Basic Food Hygiene Course and also be inoculated against typhoid and be screened for TB if they are over 45 years of age. In order to ensure compliance of good food and personal hygiene practices, good housekeeping and cleanliness of food premises, a Points Demerit System (PDS) was put in place whereby demerit points are given to licensees for offences committed under the regulations. The food retail outlets will be liable for suspension for up to two weeks if the maximum points allowed are exceeded.
The Food Grading Scheme was introduced in 1997 for these outlets to be appraised in a more structured way and to motivate the licensees to improve on their hygiene practices. NEA officers conduct routine checks on the food outlets, the frequency of which depends on the grading, with premises having poorer grading being checked more often. Since the scheme started, the number of food retail outlets with better grades had increased steadily. A programme has also started recently to encourage school canteens and food courts to achieve “A” grade status by training their food vendors to maintain an in-house food hygiene monitoring system.
To further raise the standards of hygiene and sanitation of restaurants and food caterers, the Food Hygiene Officer (FHO) Scheme was introduced in 2001 where suitable personnel such as sous chef or chief cook etc are trained as FHOs so that they have the knowledge and competence to audit the hygiene of food operations in their own establishments daily. This self-regulation by the food operators is complementary to the routine audits conducted by NEA officers.
Singapore recognises that total food safety management is a continuum from farm to fork requiring a tri-partite strategy, i.e. the combined effort of the government, food industry and consumers.
The food industry is responsible for the safety of food it offers to the consumer. AVA collaborates both with the local food industry to encourage the adoption of HACCP systems and local farms to adopt Good Agricultural Practices. The agency has initiated a Food Safety Partnership Scheme in 2003 to give recognition to local food industry players with commendable food safety assurance and food safety consumer education efforts in Singapore.
Consumers are responsible for carrying out precautionary measures to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses. AVA started its Food Safety Awareness Programme in 2002 to educate consumers on food safety. The programme targets consumers through road shows and the distribution of food safety information through printed collaterals, advertorials and via the AVA website.
At the food retail end, NEA works intimately with its partners such as the hotel, restaurant and coffee shop associations to upgrade the hygiene and sanitation of food establishments. This is done through regular dialogues, seminars and participation in Committee workgroups.
Singapore has a well-established epidemiological surveillance system for food-borne diseases. Hospitals and general practitioners encountering patients with cholera, enteric fevers and viral hepatitis infections are required legally to notify the Ministry of Health. The Ministry is also administratively notified of cases of salmonellosis, shigellosis, campylobacteriosis, listeriosis and Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections. Diarrhoeal disease surveillance is carried out based on weekly returns from the polyclinics. In addition, an enteric fever carrier registry is maintained, documenting all carriers since 1974.
The food contaminant monitoring system is backed by the testing capabilities of AVA’s Veterinary Public Health Laboratory (VPHL). The VPHL offers a comprehensive range of analytical services covering a wide spectrum of chemical and microbiological hazards. Its capabilities include tests for disease, food poisoning and spoilage organisms, harmful chemicals and toxins. VPHL is also the national reference laboratory for pesticide residues. The laboratory uses internationally recognized procedures and standards, as well as state-of-the-art technology to provide multidisciplinary laboratory testing services. Test capabilities are continuously developed to keep pace with the challenges of, and to maintain vigilance against, newly-emerging chemical and microbiological hazards that may be present in food. The laboratory practices a rigorous quality assurance programme and participates actively in inter-laboratory proficiency testing schemes. It is accredited under ISO17025.