Making it safe to eat

SINGAPORE - Through this year's theme - "Food safety for all occasions" - the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) wants to underscore the importance of food safety even in times of festivities and celebrations.

"Singapore is known to be a food nation and food tends to be very much part of most festivities and celebrations," says Ms Tan Poh Hong, AVA's chief executive officer.

"Parties, picnics, steamboats and barbecues are synonymous with celebrations and happy occasions for most of us. In our merriment and heightened spirits of the celebration, food safety may not take precedence."

Mishandling of food, especially during preparation, is one of the leading causes of food-borne illnesses, commonly known as food poisoning.

"It is important for us, as consumers, to adopt good food safety practices in our daily routine and make it second nature so that we do not put our health or the health of our loved ones, at risk unnecessarily," adds Ms Tan.

As there is a tendency to over-prepare food during festivities, this may lead to wastage and if the leftovers are not stored properly, these could cause food poisoning, adds Ms Tan.

Shared responsibility

Globally, about 1.5 billion cases of food-borne disease outbreaks are reported annually, resulting in three million deaths.

Singapore enjoys one of the lowest incidences of food-borne disease outbreaks in the world. This is achieved through a shared responsibility among AVA, the food industry and consumers.

"A robust food safety system is integral in ensuring safe food for all Singaporeans, especially when much of our food is imported and sourced from around the world," says Ms Tan.

More than 90 per cent of all food consumed in Singapore is imported. This heavy dependence on food imports exposes the supply and safety of its food to constant challenges from outbreaks of animal diseases and food scares overseas.

The emergence of new food borne pathogens and unconventional contaminants in recent years has further amplified the threat that unsafe food could be easily introduced into the country.

Because of this, food safety is a shared responsibility. "Food safety involves everybody, the government, industry and consumers," says Ms Tan. "Everyone has a role to play."

Integrated system

AVA has an integrated food safety system in place to ensure that food sold in Singapore is safe.

The comprehensive system, based on science and risk analysis, involves checking and accrediting of food sources, licensing and inspection of food and food establishments, source tracing, surveillance and monitoring for food threats as well as public education.

AVA constantly reviews and improves its Food Safety Regulations and processes. It anticipates and remains vigilant of global food safety developments by monitoring and identifying potential food and health issues that could threaten Singapore's population, while ensuring that its laboratories have the capabilities to detect such threats and contaminants.

A recent case is the addition of maleic acid to some Taiwanese food products. Maleic acid is a raw material for industrial use and is not approved as a food additive.

In such cases, the food safety authorities need to be aware of possible contamination from uncommon contaminants and build up their capabilities in testing these items.

Industry's role crucial

This year, AVA is recognising more than 100 companies in its annual Food Safety Excellence Awards. Of these, 12 received the bronze award (five consecutive years of 'A' grading), seven received the silver award (10 consecutive years of 'A' grading) and four were conferred gold (15 consecutive years of 'A' grading).

Upholding safety standards for the food it offers to the public is the responsibility of the food industry, which is encouraged to participate in voluntary programmes that promote good agricultural and manufacturing practices.

An example is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a food safety assurance programme. Founded on scientific methodologies, the HACCP system is a proactive risk management approach that enhances food safety by analysing potential hazards and identifying critical control points.

To date, there are more than 480 HACCP-certified food processing establishments in Singapore.

AVA also holds regular dialogues with the food industry associations to gather feedback and explore opportunities to work together, for the benefit of consumers.

It also works closely with its overseas counterparts to facilitate import consignments and on accreditation matters.

Because food contamination can happen anywhere from production to consumption, it has to be prevented or controlled at all stages of the food chain.

"There are many possible ways that our food can be contaminated along the food chain, beginning from the farm and finally ending on your fork," says Ms Tan.

"Thus the industry must work hand-in-hand with AVA in maintaining high food safety standards, and consumers must play your part in ensuring your food is safe from the moment you buy your food to the point you consume it."

Food safety tips

  • Don't thaw food at room temperature. It is safer to defrost overnight in the refrigerator or microwave.
  • Don't hold marinated food at room temperature. Keep marinated food in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.
  • Don't leave dairy products sitting at room temperature.
  • Rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Soak vegetables in a basin of fresh tap water for 15 minutes. Before cutting and cooking, rinse the vegetables once more in a basin of fresh tap water.
  • Don't store ripe fruit with vegetables as ripe fruits produce ethylene gas that can cause green leafy vegetables to turn yellow.
  • Don't cross-contaminate. Don't mix raw food with food that has already been cooked. Use different cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked food. After cutting raw meat, seafood and poultry, wash the knives thoroughly before cutting other food. 

Visit for more tips.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.