A Guide to Food Standards in Singapore

Last updated on April 19, 2024

preparing food with gloves on

Adhering to food standards in Singapore is a broad yet crucial task for every aspiring business owner venturing into the Food and Beverage (F&B) sector. It requires rigorous efforts to stay up-to-date with the various regulations by both the government and the food industry. However, these regulations and stringent food safety standards have helped ensure Singapore’s low incidence of food-borne diseases, despite importing over 90% of its food.

Food safety standards in Singapore are largely governed by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and can be broadly categorised into licensing, safety, labelling and packaging, and advertising.

SFA works together with other authorities such as the Agriculture-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, the National Environmental Agency of Singapore and the Health Sciences Authority. They mainly aim to diversify import sources, grow local produce, support overseas business expansion, and oversee safety from farm to fork. SFA aims to produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030.

This article will explain the following:

Food Licensing

Depending on whether you are a food manufacturer/retailer or a trader, you will first need different documents to legitimise all your processes.

Food manufacturers/retailers may require permits like the GoBusiness Licence, a Licence to Import Table Eggs to Singapore, a Food (Export) Health Certificate, and even forms for food handlers and hygiene officers. For instance, Singapore permits the import of raw meats from a specified list of countries that have been granted an exclusive licence.

In short, the type of licence would depend on the type of food business that you are looking to start, be it a food shop such as a restaurant, a food stall or a supermarket. For instance, a mini-mart would not need a licence if they sell raw vegetables and/or whole fruits with no additional handling or preparation. However, supermarkets that sell raw meats/poultry/seafood would require a supermarket licence.

It is worth noting that the licensing fee can vary from around $195 to $500, depending on the size and nature of the food business.

If you are considering setting up a food stall selling food and/or drinks for a temporary event, you will also require an SFA Temporary Fair Permit. It costs $60, regardless of the duration of the event and number of stalls. Do note that operating temporary fairs illegally without a valid permit is an offence and you may be liable to fines.

Food Safety Rules

Food Safety covers oversight of regulatory limits (e.g., regulatory limits for substances such as food additives like flavour enhancers/emulsifiers/chemical preservatives) and incidental constituents (contaminants) present in food.

Regulatory limits

The exact regulatory limits are laid out in the Food Regulations, and food businesses are required to comply with the respective standards. Examples of what the Food Regulations entail, include, but are not limited to, standards and particular requirements for labelling and food additives, the prohibition of having false/misleading statements, etc.

Another key example would be limits for incidental constituents (i.e. contaminants) in food. These contaminants are substances that are a by-product of the entire production process (e.g.,manufacture/-treatment/transport). There are several types of contaminants, with different standards to meet. Examples include heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticide residues, etc.

You can click here for a more comprehensive guide.

Restaurant inspections

To further ensure that the hygiene requirements in restaurants are maintained regularly, the SFA also exercises the Food Safety Rules by conducting annual restaurant inspections. These inspections are carried out at random and without any prior notice. Restaurants would be graded depending on their compliance with the relevant hygiene and safety standards.

As of 2024, the current grading standard (i.e. grades from ‘A’ to ‘D’) will be replaced with a new framework of ‘Bronze’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’ awards which correspond with a 3/5/10-year licence duration. This is in line with the implementation of the Safety Assurance for Food Establishments (SAFE) framework.

Under the SAFE framework, food establishments will be assessed by their track record, e.g., of food lapses, over a number of years. This change aims to incentivise food establishments to maintain a high quality of food safety, given the focus on the establishment’s track record and consistency.

If you are a new restaurant owner, while you will not be given any awards for the time being, you will still be evaluated by the Food Hygiene Officer. If you fail the inspection, you will be given up to 6 demerit points, depending on the severity of your food hygiene offence. Consequently, you may face a fine, suspension or complete cancellation of your Food Shop License.

It is worth noting that if your business operates as either a caterer, or provides catering as an ancillary service, you are also required to submit a proper Food Safety Management System reference.

To strive towards a high quality of food safety, we strongly encourage you to refer to SFA’s guide on food safety practices here.

Food Packaging and Labelling

Food packaging

The food package must have labels that are in legible and durably printed letters. The inclusion of foreign health rating scheme logos on the packaging (e.g., Australian Health Star Rating logo), may falsely give off the impression that such products are a healthier option. These products should have suitable disclaimers to provide more information and clarity to the consumer.

Food labelling

Food labels should communicate product information clearly and accurately to consumers. It helps consumers differentiate between individual foods and brands to make the best choice prior to consumption, to reduce the possibility of a food safety incident. As such, all pre-packed food products for sale must be labelled according to the general labelling requirements of the Food Regulations.

It is worth mentioning that SFA takes reference from the international food standards setting body, Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), which is also referred to by the United Nations/WHO Food Standards Programme when reviewing the labelling requirements.

Regulation 5 of the Food Regulations lays out the general requirements for labelling. In brief, it mentions that the advertisement/sale of goods without an approved label is not permitted. It also adds that the label must be placed in an obvious and visible way (not less than 1.5 mm in height), and be in English.

Examples of other requirements include the common name of the food, ingredient list, net quantity/weight, name/address of the manufacturer, ingredients commonly known to cause hypersensitivity (e.g., gluten), country of origin (for imported food products), etc. Failure to abide by Regulation 5 will result in a fine that can range from $1000 to $2000.

Section 17 of the Sale of Foods Act also states that a person must not sell food that is labelled in a deceptive/false way, or even give that impression, regarding the value and safety of the food. Those who do so will be liable for an offence and fined up to $5,000 for a first offence.

Here is an example of a model food label:

Lastly, it is important to understand the differences between nutrition labelling and food labelling:

Nutrition Labelling Food Labelling
Only required when nutrition/permitted health claims are made. Only required for pre-packaged foods that are intended for human consumption and offered as a prize/reward/sample for the purpose of advertising.
Information to be declared includes, but is not limited to, the energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate contents of the food. Information to be declared includes the name of food, best by date, manufacturer’s details, etc.

You can refer to the Twelfth Schedule of the Food Regulations for an example of an acceptable nutrition information panel. More information on the declaration of nutrition information can also be found in the Handbook on Nutrition Labelling published by the Health Promotion Board.

The Health Promotion Board also introduced the Healthier Choice Symbol to help consumers identify packaged food products that are healthier options and make more informed choices for their diet.  It can be found on 4000 different food products, across over 100 food categories.

For beverages, Nutri-Grade labels/marks have also been introduced with the aim of tackling diabetes in Singapore, which is a serious public health concern. The labels apply for pre-packaged as well as freshly prepared beverages for sale at specified locations.

The mandatory Nutri-Grade label has four colour-coded grades. Grade A, corresponding to the lowest sugar and saturated fat thresholds, is in green. Grade D, corresponding to the highest sugar and saturated fat thresholds, is in red. In addition to the grades, the sugar level of the beverage is shown clearly on the label in the form of a percentage of the total volume.

All Nutri-Grade beverages are required to indicate its nutrition information, and post-market surveillance will be conducted to ensure compliance.

Here is an example of the Nutri-Grade marks:

Smaller food businesses involved with the sale/supply of freshly prepared Nutri-Grade beverages will be provided with a concession, if:

  • Their revenue is not more than $1m in the latest financial year; and
  • They sell/ supply those beverages at fewer than 10 food premises.

The concession means that these smaller food businesses will be exempted from the Nutri-Grade framework requirements. However, compliance is still expected for existing, pre-packaged and non-customisable beverages dispensed from vending machines and automatic beverage dispensers.

Allergen labelling

This includes the declaration of foods and ingredients that are known to cause hypersensitivity. The difference between such foods and ingredients, and foods that may be generally intolerable, is that the former could cause severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, which could be life-threatening. Examples include cereals containing gluten, egg and egg products, fish and fish products, etc.

If your product contains ingredients that are known to cause hypersensitivity, you must declare it in the statement of ingredients in descending order by weight. Please refer to the Guide to Food Labelling and Advertisements published by SFA here to ensure you are compliant with the prescribed requirements.

According to Regulation 261 of the Food Regulations, non-compliance with any of the provisions of the Food Regulations, which includes any offences pertaining to allergen labelling, is an offence. Offenders may be liable to a fine of $1000 to $2000 depending on the offence.

For example, on 6 March 2024, SFA recalled (i.e., removed from the distribution/sale/consumption) cashew nut cookies from Malaysia, after peanuts were found to be undeclared as an ingredient on the food packaging. In 2019, a distributor was fined $800 for inaccurate declarations of a Ritter Sport chocolate bar, following which the product was also recalled by SFA.

Food advertising

While food advertisements do not require prior approval from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, all food advertisements should, in principle, be legal, decent, honest and truthful. It should be done in good will, and with a sense of responsibility to members of the public.

An example of poor advertising that is false/misleading would be Sterra’s (a local air and water purifier brand) Facebook advertisement that alluded to tap water in Singapore having bacteria and algae. Earlier this year, local bubble tea chain iTEA also took down their advertisement of having “zero sugar, zero calories” in all their drinks, despite them later claiming that the advertisement referred to a sugar substitute they were using.

You should refer to The Singapore Code of Advertising Practice to understand how to best adhere to the industry requirements. The Code provides guidance on what is prohibited (e.g., bait advertising, advertisements that play on fear, exploit the superstitious, etc). Deceptive/misleading advertising can result in a fine.

Health claims

Under the Codex Guidelines for Use of Nutrition and Health Claims, a health claim means any representation that states/suggests/implies that a relationship exists between a food or a constituent of that food, and health. Health claims include nutrient function claims, other function claims, and reduction of disease risk claims (e.g., “Can help lower your HDL cholesterol by 10% in 10 weeks”).

While the use of the word “organic” in food products may still be popular with consumers, it remains a nebulous marketing term which may not have scientific evidence of significant health benefits. It would be wise to be prudent when making any health claims relating to organic foods.

You can head over to our article on Organic Food, if you are trying to advertise such a product.

Advertisements of therapeutic products, e.g., chemical and biologic drugs that are intended for therapeutic, preventive or palliative use, or for diagnostic purposes, do not require prior approval from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). However, you must still comply with the Health Products Act and the relevant regulations (e.g., the advertisement must not encourage or be likely to encourage inappropriate or excessive use of the therapeutic product), and the advertisement must be aligned with its intended usage according to the registration.

You can refer to the HAS here on the type of claims you are allowed to make.

In short, Singapore upholds a high standard of food safety, and the food standards here comprise different aspects such as licensing, labelling, advertising, and applies across various contexts such as restaurants or even temporary stalls.

While business owners face a broad range of boxes to check, they are expected to familiarise themselves with and comply with the industrial standards. Doing otherwise could lead to potential pitfalls such as a possible breach of advertisement laws or gross negligence in food handling/deliberate contamination which can have legal consequences for non-compliance.

If you ever have any legal trouble, please consult an appropriate lawyer for advice.

Appointment and Removal of Company Officers and Other Key Personnel
  1. What is a Nominee Director & How to Appoint One in Singapore (With FAQs)
  2. Independent Directors: Who are They and What is Their Role?
  3. Board of Advisors: Who Are They and What Is Their Role?
  4. Appointing Company Directors in Singapore: Eligibility, Process etc.
  5. Managing Director vs CEO in Singapore: Roles and Obligations
  6. Guide to Directors' Remuneration in Singapore
  7. Directors' Duties in Singapore
  8. Shadow Directors: Who are They and What Duties Do They Owe to the Company?
  9. How to Remove a Director from a Company in Singapore
  10. Removal and Resignation of Company Auditor in Singapore
  11. Appointing a Company Secretary: Roles and Responsibilities
  12. Appointing an Authorised Representative for Foreign Companies in Singapore
  13. Process Agents in Singapore
Holding Meetings
  1. What are Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in Singapore?
  2. How to Hold Extraordinary General Meetings (EGMs) in Singapore
  3. How to Hold a Board Meeting in Singapore
Shareholder Matters
  1. Share Buybacks in Singapore: Procedure, Cost and More
  2. How to Split Shares (or Stocks) in a Singapore Company
  3. 2 Ways to Remove a Singapore Company Shareholder ASAP
  4. What are Treasury Shares? Guide for Singapore Companies
  5. A Guide to Paid-Up Capital in Singapore
  6. Preparing a Register of Shareholders for a Singapore Company
  7. How to Issue Shares in a Singapore Private Company
  8. Guide to Transferring Shares in a Singapore Private Company
  9. Your Guide to Share Certificates in Singapore: Usage and How to Prepare
  10. Shareholder Rights in Singapore Private Companies
  11. Shareholder Roles and Obligations in Singapore Companies
  12. Dividend Payments Guide for Singapore Business Owners
  13. Share Transmission: What Happens If a Shareholder Dies in Singapore?
  14. How to Reduce the Share Capital of Your Singapore Company
  15. Buy-Sell Agreements: How to Write & Fund Them in Singapore
  16. Oppression of Minority Shareholders
Compliance
  1. Is Your Business Collaboration Competition Law-Compliant?
  2. Explained: Registered Filing Agent for Singapore Businesses
  3. Transfer Pricing Obligations of Singapore Companies
  4. Adhering to Trading Sanctions and Restrictions in Singapore
  5. Cyber Hygiene Compliance Guide for Singapore Companies
  6. Corporate Social Responsibility For Businesses in Singapore
  7. A Guide to Food Standards in Singapore
  8. Essential Regulatory Compliance Guide for Singapore Companies
  9. Dormant Companies and Their Filing Obligations in Singapore
  10. Anti-Money Laundering Regulations and Your Business: What You Need to Know
  11. Price-Fixing, Bid-Rigging and Other Anti-Competitive Practices to Avoid
  12. Can Singapore Businesses Legally Conduct Lucky Draws?
  13. Restaurant Inspection and Food Safety Rules in Singapore
Company Management
  1. Does Your Company Need a Legal Team (In-House Counsel)?
  2. Acqui-Hiring of Singapore Companies: How Does It Work?
  3. Can a Company Director Take Legal Action Against Another Director?
  4. How to Change the Name of Your Singapore Company
  5. Can Directors be Liable for Company Debts in Singapore?
  6. Company Loans to Directors/Shareholders in Singapore
  7. 3 Types of Insurance Every Singapore Business Needs
  8. Creating and Registering Charges in Singapore: Guide for Companies
  9. Guide to Effective Business Continuity Planning in Singapore
  10. Business Asset Sale & Disposal in Singapore: How Do They Work?
  11. 5 Ways To Resolve Business Partnership Disputes in Singapore
  12. How to Commence a Derivative Action on Behalf of a Company in Singapore
  13. Business Will: How to Pass on Your Business to Your Successors in Singapore
Company Documents
  1. Record-Keeping Requirements for Singapore Companies
  2. Company Constitutions in Singapore and How to Draft One
  3. Company Memorandum and Articles of Association
  4. Company Resolutions: What are They?
  5. Board Resolutions in Singapore
  6. Minutes of Company Meeting in Singapore: How to Record
  7. How to Set Up a Register of Controllers
  8. How to Set Up a Register of Nominee Directors
  9. Guide to Filing Financial Statements for Singapore Business Owners
  10. Filing Annual Returns For Your Business
Tax, Accounting and Audit Matters
  1. Carbon Tax in Singapore: What is the Rate and Who Must Pay?
  2. Laws and Penalties for GST Evasion in Singapore
  3. 6 Common Taxes in Singapore For Individuals & Businesses
  4. Singapore Corporate Tax: How to Pay, Tax Rate, Exemptions
  5. Start-Up Tax Exemption Guide for New Singapore Companies
  6. GST Registration: Requirements and Procedure in Singapore
  7. What is Withholding Tax and When to Pay It in Singapore
  8. Singapore Influencers: Here's How to Calculate Your Income Tax
  9. Investigating Tax-Evading Business Owners in Singapore
  10. Small Business Accounting Services in Singapore
  11. Company Audits in Singapore: Requirements and Exemptions
Data Protection
  1. Suspect a PDPA Data Breach? Here's What to Do Next
  2. Must You Notify PDPC About a Data Breach in Your Business?
  3. Data Room: Should Your Singapore Company Set Up One?
  4. Victim of a Data Breach? Here’s What You Can Do
  5. Summary: Your Organisation's 10 Main PDPA Obligations
  6. Essential PDPA Compliance Guide for Singapore Businesses
  7. PDPA Consent Requirements: How Can Your Business Comply?
  8. Is It Legal for Businesses to Ask for Your NRIC in Singapore?
  9. How To Prevent Unauthorised Disclosure When Processing and Sending Personal Data
  10. Cloud Storage of Personal Data: Your Business’ Data Protection Obligations
  11. Drafting a Comprehensive Privacy Policy For Your Singapore Website
  12. GDPR Compliance in Singapore: Is it Required and How to Comply
  13. Appointing a Data Protection Officer For Your Business: All You Need to Know
  14. How Can Companies Dispose of Documents Containing Personal Data?
  15. Check the Do-Not-Call Registry Before Marketing to Singapore Phone Numbers
  16. How to Legally Install CCTVs for Home/Business Use in Singapore
  17. Is Web Scraping or Crawling Legal in Singapore?
  18. Legal Options If Employees Breach Confidentiality in Singapore
Marketing
  1. Social Media Marketing: Legal Guide for Singapore Businesses
  2. Your Guide to E-commerce Website Terms of Service in Singapore
  3. Dealing with Defamation of Your Business: Can You Sue?
  4. Sending Email Newsletters That Comply With Singapore Law
  5. A legal guide to drafting a social media policy for your company
  6. Your Guide to a Media Release Form in Singapore
  7. Your Guide to an Influencer Marketing Agreement in Singapore
  8. Outdoor Advertising: How to Legally Display Public Ads in Singapore
Fintech and Payment Services Advisory
  1. A Guide to Digital Bank Regulation in Singapore
  2. Applying for a Major Payment Institution Licence in Singapore
  3. Applying to the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox
  4. Payment Services Act Licensing Guide for Fintech Businesses
  5. How to Get a Payment Service Provider Licence in Singapore
  6. Financial Adviser's Licence Guide for Singapore Businesses
  7. Capital Markets (CMS) Licence Requirements in Singapore
  8. How to Offer E-Wallet Services in Singapore: Licensing Guide
  9. Digital Payment Token Services Licence Guide in Singapore
  10. How to Legally Offer Crypto Services in Singapore
Franchising
  1. Starting a Franchise in Singapore: What Franchisors Should Look Out For
  2. Running a Franchise in Singapore: What To Look Out for as a Franchisee
Debt Restructuring
  1. What is Judicial Management and How It Works in Singapore
  2. Schemes of Arrangement: How They Work and How to Apply
  3. Informal Debt Restructuring and Workout in Singapore
Ending a Business
  1. How to Restore a Struck-Off Company in Singapore
  2. Claw-Back of Assets From Unfair Preference and Undervalued Transactions
  3. Should You Save or Close Your Zombie Company in Singapore?
  4. Voluntary Suspension of Business in Singapore: How to Handle
  5. Winding Up a Singapore Company: Grounds and Procedure
  6. Closing Your Singapore Business: What You Need to Settle
  7. Striking Off a Company
  8. Restoring a Company That was Struck Off Without You Knowing
  9. Dissolution of partnerships in Singapore
  10. What Should a Creditor Do When a Company Becomes Insolvent?
  11. How to File a Proof of Debt Against a Company in Liquidation
  12. Validation of Payments Made by Companies Being Wound Up