Restaurant Inspection and Food Safety Rules in Singapore

Last updated on February 24, 2020

chef cooking in restaurant kitchen

While owning a restaurant can be fun and fulfilling, it also comes with responsibilities, such as meeting the minimum standards for restaurant inspections.

If you are a restaurant owner in Singapore and are uncertain about the specifics of restaurant inspections and food safety rules, let us break this down for you.

What is a Restaurant Inspection?

A restaurant inspection is essentially a check conducted by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to ensure that your restaurant meets the necessary hygiene requirements to safely prepare and serve food to customers.

When are Restaurant Inspections Conducted?

Restaurant inspections are conducted once a year by hygiene officers from the Compliance Management Division of the SFA. These inspections can occur at any time during the year, and you will not be informed prior to the inspection. This allows the officers to get a more accurate sense of how hygienic your restaurant usually is.

What Happens During the Restaurant Inspection?

During an inspection, hygiene officers check for a wide range of food safety issues under different categories, such as:

  • Personal Hygiene: Whether food handlers (i.e. persons who handle/prepare food and drinks such as chefs or kitchen assistants) are fit for work and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently;
  • Food Storage Area: Whether food storage areas are clean and free of pests, and all food packaging is properly labelled with the food contents and expiry dates;
  • Cold Storage: Whether food is stored at the proper temperatures in freezers and chillers, and cooked products are stored separately from raw products;
  • Food Preparation: Whether food is cooked thoroughly to the required core temperature, and all ingredients used are clean and washed thoroughly before cooking;
  • Toilets: Whether toilets are clean, dry and well-ventilated.

You can find more information on what exactly hygiene officers lookout for by referring to the sample checklist on the SFA website.

Under section 4 of the Sale of Food Act (SOFA), hygiene officers have the right to:

  • Enter and inspect your restaurant’s premises;
  • Require you to state your name and place of residence;
  • Inspect any food intended for sale;
  • Open and examine any package that contains food intended for sale;
  • Secure, weigh or measure any food that does not meet the minimum standards of hygiene;
  • Seize any food or any article that has come into contact with the food that is, or seems to be, harmful to health; and
  • Destroy any food that is decayed or harmful to health.

Your obligations during the inspection

Under section 5 of the SOFA, the hygiene officers have the right to ask you for any documents or records relevant to food hygiene, and can also make copies of these documents or records. If you refuse to provide the proper documents, you will be guilty of an offence.

Officers could also demand samples of your food for analysis or examination under section 6 of the SOFA. Refusing to comply with these demands would also make you guilty of an offence.

Note that if you are found guilty under either of these 2 offences, you can be fined up to $5,000. If you have been found guilty on more than one occasion, you can be fined up to $10,000, and/or be imprisoned for a term up to 3 months.

What happens After the Restaurant Inspection? 

After the inspection, you will be given a grade according to how well your restaurant met with food hygiene and safety standards. There are 4 grades that can be given:

  1. A (Score of 85% or higher)
  2. B (Score of 70% to 84%)
  3. C (Score of 50% to 69%)
  4. D (Score of 40% to 49%)

Not only do these grades give customers a sense of security regarding the safety of the food they are consuming, but they also encourage restaurants to improve their food hygiene in order to receive a better grade.

New Inspection Scheme 

Note that from late 2020 onwards, the new “Food Hygiene Recognition Scheme” (FHRS) will be implemented, effectively replacing the current grading system.

The FHRS aims to encourage restaurant owners to maintain good food hygiene by giving special decals to restaurants that have consistently kept up to hygiene standards. This means that operators who have maintained a consistent track record for at least 2, 5 or 10 years will be given a Bronze, Silver or Gold award decal respectively, which they can display at the restaurant premises.

If you are a new restaurant owner, you will be given a label stating “Working towards excellent hygiene track record”. This label will be valid for up to 2 years before the SFA assesses if your restaurant is eligible for a Bronze award.

In general, a consistent track record can be achieved as long as there are no major hygiene lapses, such as using unclean crockery, handling food with bare hands, and using the same utensils to handle both raw and cooked food.

If you do happen to commit a major hygiene lapse after attaining an award, your award may be downgraded, and you will have to display a lower-grade decal instead.

What If My Restaurant Fails the Inspection?

Giving of demerit points

The SFA has a Points Demerit System, whereby demerit points are given to restaurant owners for different categories of offences, as follows:

Offence category Number of demerit points given Examples of offences
Minor offences 0
  • Altering the layout of your licensed premises without approval
  • Failing to employ a cleaner to maintain the toilets
  • Failing to attend a food hygiene course when required
  • Placing goods outside your licensed premises.
Major offences 4
  • Failing to keep your chiller clean
  • Wiping your hands on dirty towels, selling expired pre-packaged food
  • Keeping live animals on your restaurant premises
  • Smoking tobacco
Serious offences 6
  • Selling unclean food
  • Preparing food in a toilet or on the floor
  • Using water from unapproved sources
  • Failing to keep premises free from pests
  • Wiping crockery with dirty cloths

Suspension/Cancellation of Food Shop Licence 

If you, as a restaurant owner, accumulate 12 demerit points or more within 12 months, your Food Shop licence (which allows you to legally sell food and drinks at your restaurant) will either be suspended for 2 or 4 weeks, or be cancelled entirely, depending on whether you have an existing record of suspension.

In addition to a suspended/cancelled licence, you could also be subjected to a fine of up to $5,000 for failing to comply with food safety standards under the Environmental Public Health Act.

As an example, in 2019, the SFA suspended the licence of a food shop at Tras Street for 2 weeks. This was because during restaurant inspections over the course of 12 months, the shop owner had accumulated 24 demerit points for selling unclean food and failing to register an assistant.

Apart from the suspension, the owner was also fined a total of $1,600 and the food handlers at the shop were required to re-attend and pass the Basic Food Hygiene Course.

Tips to Ace a Restaurant Inspection 

If you would like to ace your restaurant inspection, it is paramount that you comply with food safety and hygiene regulations. Here are some good practices that you should follow:

  • Always ensure that employees wash their hands properly
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before preparing them
  • Wash chopping boards regularly, and use separate boards for cooked and raw foods
  • Change gloves regularly
  • Check that freezers and chillers are always at the proper temperatures, and clean their internal surfaces regularly
  • Regularly check freezers and chillers for expired goods and discard  these promptly
  • Create a cleaning and sanitation schedule to ensure that different areas in your restaurant, such as the kitchen, bathroom and dining area, are always sufficiently clean
  • Keep your restaurant pest-free by ensuring that all drains and gullies are covered with grating, sealing any holes in walls and floors, and using traps such as live rat traps or glue boards to catch any pests
  • Store cleaning agents and tools at appropriate areas, away from food storage and preparation areas

You can find more information on good food hygiene practices here.

If you have failed a restaurant inspection and have been penalised for failing to adhere to food safety standards, you may want to discuss your options with a lawyer.

A lawyer may be able to represent you if you choose to appeal your case to the High Court to get a lower fine or sentence.

You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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