Food Safety – Why We Should Choose Local Produce
With ambitious targets set for local farmers to meet Singapore’s food security goal of producing 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, there’ve been numerous news articles and TV programmes about “food security”, but it seems like there haven’t been much mention about “food safety”. However, do you know that food security does not just refer to the availability and affordability of food, but also to the availability and affordability of quality food that’s safe to eat?
What is Food Safety and Why is it Important?
Having constant access to safe food should not be taken for granted. Food safety is the result of joint efforts by the Singapore government, the industry and consumers to ensure that food is safe to eat and is not contaminated with harmful substances or microorganisms.
To ensure food safety from farm to fork, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) works closely with the industry, which has a role to play in ensuring that the food they provide is safe. As the national authority for food safety in Singapore, SFA sets food safety standards which are consistent with those adopted internationally and enforces these through regular inspections, surveillance and sampling.
To meet SFA’s requirements, our farmers have to adhere to rigorous practices to ensure that food safety is always at the heart of their operations. Thanks to the stringent farming practices which our licensed food farms adopt, we have a supply of safe local produce to enjoy every day.
What Factors Affect Food Safety?
When it comes to fish, eggs and vegetables, there are many factors that can undermine the safety of the produce. For example, the presence of heavy metals, drugs, bacteria or pesticides can all potentially harm our health. That’s why farms in Singapore must adhere to strict food safety guidelines to safeguard us from eating contaminated food which can make us ill.
For fish, the potential risks include bacterial or viral contamination, naturally occurring toxins, and chemical/drug contaminants. Pathogens are the primary food safety concern with regard to seafood. Some types of fish may also contain naturally occurring parasites. Proper handling practices are needed to minimise pathogen growth and foodborne illnesses. Another concern is environmental contaminants such as heavy metals accumulation, like mercury or lead, which can cause health problems. Lastly, improper or illegal use of drugs or chemicals in fish can also lead to residues present in the produce.
When it comes to eggs, a key worry is the possible presence of bacteria such as Salmonella, which is a leading cause of foodborne illnesses worldwide. It can be spread to humans through the consumption of contaminated eggs, and cause symptoms which include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. While in healthy adults the infection is typically self-limiting and subsides within a week, Salmonella can cause serious infections in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, young children and those with weakened immune systems. Similar to fish, drug and chemical residues can also be found in eggs due to improper or illegal use.
A common concern about vegetables is that the crop may have high residual levels of pesticides, as the exposure to large quantities of pesticides may cause poisoning.
Food Safety Regulations
In order to ensure that our fresh produce are safe to eat, our local fish, egg and vegetable farmers have a comprehensive list of licensing conditions from SFA that they have to comply with, and guidelines on good farm management and farming practices to follow.
Fish farms train their staff on good farm practices for safe food production, including measures to prevent diseases as this will result in loss of harvest. Incoming fish stocks should be from reliable sources, and have their health status verified before use in production. Fish health and water quality should be monitored and documented daily for adverse changes, and any dead or dying fish must be removed and disposed of properly.
Fish feed should also be from reliable sources and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Antibiotics, drugs and/or chemicals should be purchased from licensed distributors and their usage should be according to the manufacturer’s instructions after veterinary consultation. In addition, the withdrawal period prior to harvest must be strictly observed. Certain drugs and chemicals that are harmful to humans if their residues are found in fish meat are also banned from use. Fish ready for harvest are sampled regularly to ensure they do not have any residual levels of antibiotics, drugs, chemicals or heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic beyond safety limits. Also, as sick or diseased fish are not fit for consumption, they are not harvested for sale.
The farm, particularly the packing area, must be cleaned regularly. After harvesting, only clean packing containers are to be used for the packing of fish, and fish must be packed with sufficient ice and transported chilled with proper cold chain management till the point of retail. Each batch of food fish leaving the farm must also be traceable to the farm with proper on-farm documentation.
All these measures ensure that consumers have access to healthy fish that are safe to eat. In addition, farms can choose to be certified under the Good Aquaculture Practice for Fish Farming (GAP-FF), which is a farm assurance scheme to certify local farms that have implemented farm management systems to ensure safe and quality farm production. The certification awarded by SFA provides local farms with a competitive tool to gain market access and consumers’ trust for their farm produce.
Egg farms have to maintain their premises in clean and sanitary conditions at all times and also implement necessary biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases like bird flu and bacteria such as Salmonella. This is important because bird flu, which can spread easily among birds, can result in the loss of laying hens and impact the supply of eggs, while Salmonella, which can enter the eggs through the pores of the shells, can contaminate the eggs and make them unsafe for consumption. The farms’ biosecurity measures are subjected to regular checks, while samples are taken regularly from the farm environment to ensure it is free of Salmonella. Veterinary drug administration to chickens, if necessary, is done with veterinary advice to ensure proper use. The eggs are also subjected to regular testing for drug residues.
Singapore’s egg farms produced 26% of our egg consumption in 2019. To safeguard our local supply of eggs, our egg farms have to ensure that all vehicles entering the production area must be thoroughly washed and disinfected, while all persons entering the production area must undergo bio-sanitation and be outfitted with protective farm clothing to prevent the introduction of diseases into the farm.
Every egg farm must dispose of dead birds, manure and other wastes from the farm properly. It must also have an effective pest control programme in place, and properly maintain the farm buildings used to store feed and eggs to prevent the entry of pests, wild birds and animals which can carry diseases.
In addition, the farm must implement bio segregation measures to prevent the contamination of eggs. These include effectively separating the egg collection areas from the production areas and locating the garbage collection points outside the farm premises.
As all our chicken egg farms are certified under SFA’s Singapore Quality Egg Scheme (SQES), the farms undergo yearly audits by SFA to ensure that the farms’ facilities are hygienic, the quality control monitoring systems are well-maintained, and the eggs from the farms are fresh. Knowing that local eggs go through such stringent checks, we can have peace of mind when we eat local eggs, as we can be assured of their safety, quality and freshness.
As with all licensed food farms in Singapore, licensed vegetable farms similarly have to maintain their farms in clean and sanitary conditions at all times. In addition, vegetable farms are not permitted to use any raw animal manure or human waste for crop cultivation. The farms are encouraged to adopt integrated pest management practices wherever possible to reduce the reliance on chemical control measures. When applying chemical control, vegetable farms must appoint a SFA-certified pesticide operator to ensure that the correct dose is applied and at a suitable period before harvest so that any residual effects will be minimised. All the agricultural pesticides used in Singapore-registered farms must be registered with SFA, and vegetables produced locally are routinely sampled to ensure that they are safe for consumption.
What’s more, farms can be certified under the Good Agriculture Practice for Vegetable Farming (GAP-VF) certification scheme which specifies safe and quality farm production. Some GAP-VF requirements in this scheme include soil being uncontaminated with heavy metals like mercury and lead, pesticide usage following the recommendations on the manufacturer’s label or as directed by a qualified plant health specialist, and having hygienic packing house conditons and proper cold chain management to ensure food safety and vegetable freshness.The GAP-VF certification mark therefore gives consumers the added assurance that the vegetables are from a safe and reliable source.
Why We Should Choose Local Produce
Singapore farmers are subject to strict regulations and guidelines. At the end of the day, these regulations ensure that each piece of locally-farmed fish, egg, and vegetable is fresh and safe to eat. So, buy local. And for extra peace of mind, choose local produce which are certified under SFA’s Farm Assurance Schemes.
Where to Buy Local Produce
Given the importance of food security and food safety, buying local has never been more important. So, choose local, and ensure that the country of origin stated on the packaging is Singapore.
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