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.

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