Before importing food into Singapore, it is important to ensure that all of the applicable laws and regulations have been complied with.
The main regulatory body in Singapore’s food industry is the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), which has various powers of enforcement. Such powers include:
- Issuing directions to food business owners to take measures to comply with relevant food safety rules,
- Requiring information to be provided in connection with suspected violations of laws or regulations
- Inspecting, confiscating or destroying food which is suspected to be harmful to health
It is an offence to fail to comply with the SFA’s directions or otherwise hinder the SFA in its enforcement activities. The general penalty for offences under the SFA is a fine of up to $5,000 for a first-time offence. On the other hand, repeat offenders may be fined $10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 3 months. In September 2016, a Chinese restaurant was fined $8,000 for selling illegally imported duck’s blood.
The following requirements and procedures should be kept in mind if you wish to import food into Singapore:
1. Before Importing Food
(a) Check your product’s import classification
SFA groups food-related products into different categories and there are laws and regulations specific to each category.
To determine the scope of your regulatory obligations as a food importer, it is important to understand how the product that you intend to import is classified by the SFA.
The main categories are as follows:
|Meat||Whole carcasses, or parts of any animal, whether chilled, frozen, processed or in canned form and contains more than 5% of meat content|
|Fish||Fishes, crustacean, molluscs, sponges, marine invertebrates and any other forms of aquatic life|
|Fresh Fruits and Vegetables||Raw and unprocessed fruits and vegetables (Fruits and vegetables which have undergone processing such as cutting, peeling canning and freezing are regulated as Processed Food.)|
|Fresh Eggs||Table eggs from hens, ducks and quails|
|Processed Eggs||Salted and preserved eggs, liquid and powdered eggs and cooked eggs|
|Processed Food||A catch-all category that includes all food products and food supplements not grouped under the above categories|
(b) Apply for a trader’s licence
Does your company have a UEN?
Before applying for a trader’s licence, companies must obtain a Unique Entity Number (UEN) by registering themselves with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).
Companies are to then register and activate their UEN with Singapore Customs in order to import food.
How do I apply for a trader’s licence and what are the fees?
If you wish to import meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables or fresh eggs, you have to apply for the relevant trader’s licence from the SFA.
If you intend to import processed food, you must apply for a Registration to Import Processed Food Products and Food Appliances for your company from the SFA.
These applications are done through the GoBusiness portal. The types of licences/registrations and the associated annual fees are:
|Name of Licence||Annual Fee|
|Licence for Import/Export/Transshipment of Meat and Fish Products||S$84|
|Licence for Import/Transshipment of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables||S$378|
|Licence to Import Table Eggs||N/A|
|Registration to Import Processed Food Products and Food Appliances||N/A|
Food traders with the above-mentioned licences are required to maintain a GIRO account with SFA for the payment of licence renewal fees and permit fees.
The SFA has provided a step-by-step guide to applying for a licence or registering your company with it.
(c) Apply for a permit
Upon applying for the trader’s licence, all importers have to apply for an import permit through the Singapore Government’s TradeXchange system. An import permit is required for each consignment that is to be imported.
In the application form for an import permit, you are required to provide the Establishment Code for the country from which the goods are being exported.
You would also have to provide the Product Codes for the types of products in your consignment. (See the respective Product Codes for Meat & Meat Products, Fish & Fish Products, Fresh Fruits & Vegetables and Processed Food Products & Food Appliances.)
For example, if you were importing Chilled Beef Loin and Gala Apples from Australia, the Establishment Code will be AU99999, while the Product Codes will be MBCØØL (for the Chilled Beef Loin) and HFA0APA (for the Gala Apples).
After approval by the Singapore Customs and the SFA, you will be issued a Cargo Clearance Permit (CCP) which serves as an SFA import permit.
Do I need to to apply for additional permits or licences in order to import certain foods?
If you already have a licence to import meat products but wish to import fish products (or vice versa), you do not need to apply for an additional licence. This is because your existing licence already covers the import of fish products.
However to import certain fish species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (CITES) into Singapore, CITES import permits have to be obtained from the SFA and CITES export permits must be obtained the country of export.
CITES species include sturgeon, seahorse, European eel, Whale Shark and the Mediterranean date mussel.
Import fees have to be paid for every consignment of food that you import into Singapore. The payment will be deducted from the GIRO account that you have registered with the SFA. The fees as of the date of this article are as follows:
|Meat (chilled, frozen or processed)||S$4.60 per 100 kg or part thereof|
|Meat (canned)||S$77 per consignment|
|Fish||S$3 per consignment|
|Fresh fruits and vegetables||S$3 per consignment|
|Fresh eggs||S$62 per consignment|
|Processed eggs (salted/preserved eggs)||S$62 per consignment|
|Other processed egg products||S$22 per consignment|
2. When Importing Food
(a) Comply with the relevant regulations
- The Sale of Food Act regulates food to ensure that food for sale is safe and suitable for human consumption.
- The Food Regulations contain specific provisions relating to food additives and various standards and labelling requirements for food.
Some of the category-specific regulations and conditions are as follows:
Meat and fish: Wholesome Meat and Fish Act
Meat products must meet SFA’s veterinary conditions, such as being free from diseases and chemical preservatives. Please refer to the following links for a more detailed description of the veterinary conditions for the importation of:
Meat importers must also adhere to time-frames within which the meat products must be imported from time of slaughter.
- Frozen pork cannot be imported if more than 6 months has elapsed from the time of slaughter. If between 3 to 6 months has elapsed, it will be detained for laboratory testing. If less than 3 months has elapsed, it may be subject to random testing.
- Frozen beef, mutton and poultry cannot be imported if more than 12 months has elapsed from the time of slaughter. If between 6 to 12 months has elapsed, it will be detained for laboratory testing. If less than 6 months has elapsed, it may be subject to random testing.
Each consignment of meat products must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by the authorities of the exporting country.
Fish and fish products
Generally, fish and fish products can be imported from any country. However, items that classified as high-risk products by the SFA are subject to additional conditions.
For example, chilled crab meat, chilled shucked raw oysters, chilled cockle meat and chilled cooked prawns/shrimps cannot be imported into Singapore.
Live oysters may only be imported from countries which meet SFA’s requirements for a shellfish sanitation programme. The list of countries as of 14 Nov 2018 is as follows:
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
Each consignment of live oysters, frozen oysters, frozen blood cockle meat, frozen cooked prawns and frozen raw/cooked crab meat must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by the relevant authority of the exporting country.
Fresh fruits and vegetables: Control of Plants Act
Fresh fruits and vegetables must not contain prohibited pesticide or levels of pesticide residue or toxic chemical residue that exceed prescribed levels in the Food Regulations.
Consignments from the South American Tropics and Mexico must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate that certifies that the imported produce is free from South American Leaf Blight (SALB) or is sourced from or grown in an area free from SALB.
The containers of the produce must be labelled with the name and address of the producer, product description and the date of export or packing.
Fresh eggs: Animal and Birds Act
Only fresh eggs from SFA-approved layer farms in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Sweden, Korea, Thailand and the USA can be imported into Singapore. This list may be periodically updated, so it is advisable to check the SFA website.
Imported table eggs must comply with certain veterinary conditions which apply to table eggs from countries other than Malaysia (the veterinary conditions for table eggs from Malaysia are different). For example, each consignment of eggs has to be accompanied by a veterinary health certification dated within 7 days of export.
Regulated Source Programme
Under the SFA’s Regulated Source Programme, the processed food products that you intend to import into Singapore must be manufactured in an establishment which is properly supervised by the authorities of the exporting country or has a quality assurance program acceptable to SFA.
Importers of processed food should also maintain source documentation, which serves as a record of when, where and how the processed food was manufactured, and produce them when requested by SFA officers. Examples of source documents include:
- Certificate of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point)
- Certificate of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- Health Certificate (issued by competent food or veterinary authority of exporting country
- Attestation of export (issued by competent food or veterinary authority of exporting country)
- Factory licence (issued by regulatory authority of the exporting country)
Enhanced Regulated Source Programme (ERSP)
The Enhanced Regulated Source Programme (ERSP) is jointly implemented by the SFA and the Ministry of Health (MOH), Malaysia. Under the ERSP, only products manufactured in establishments regulated/approved by MOH Malaysia are allowed to be exported into Singapore.
Importers of the following types of processed food from Malaysia must comply with the SFA’s ERSP:
- Infant formula
- Infant cereal
- Ready-to-eat traditional cakes/kueh kueh
- Ready-to-eat cooked rice products (e.g. nasi lemak, nasi goreng, lontong, etc) and other ready-to-eat perishable cooked food (puttu mayam, roti prata etc)
- Dried beancurd sticks, skins and sheets
- Edible oil
Do I need to submit a laboratory test for all food items?
Generally, it is not compulsory for food imports to undergo laboratory analysis before importation. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility as an importer to ensure that the products comply with the requirements of the Food Regulations.
For example, all food products cannot contain more than 5 parts per billion (ppb) of Alfatoxin B1 (a kind of poisonous carcinogen).
Laboratory analysis is one of the ways to ascertain that the foods comply with the requirements. Do note that if you are importing strictly-controlled food items (see below), you may be required to submit a laboratory report to the SFA.
For more details on applying for a laboratory test, please refer to the SFA website.
3. After Importing Food
Some types of food imports, such as meat and meat products, have to undergo inspection upon entering Singapore. The SFA approval code and approval message stated on your CCP will indicate whether your imported consignments require inspection by SFA.
Should it be necessary for your consignment to be inspected, It is advisable to make an online booking through the SFA’s Inspection & Laboratory e-Services. At the inspection, the following documents have to be presented to the SFA inspector:
- Your Cargo Clearance Permit,
- Any relevant documents, e.g. invoices and health certificates, and
- The consignment of food for inspection (for frozen raw meat, 1 carton is to be surface thawed before the inspection)
Consignments that fail to meet SFA’s requirements cannot be sold or distributed in Singapore.
While it is useful to have a general understanding of food import regulations, you may wish to seek legal advice to ensure that all laws and regulations pertaining to your food imports have been duly complied with.
If you are importing food to be prepared and sold in a restaurant, you may also find our article on setting up a restaurant in Singapore useful.
If you need help with applying for licences to import food into Singapore, contact us for a quotation.