With home-based food businesses becoming increasingly popular in this decade, many passionate cooks and bakers have been coming out of their comfort homes to make a name for themselves.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re part of that group too.
But at the same time, you might not be sure where to begin – so let me fill you in on all the important deets you need to know!
What counts as a Home-Based Food Business?
As the name suggests, a home-based food business is a business that you are permitted to run from the comfort of your own home – as either a HDB resident or private-home owner. But, to be considered as a home-based business, there are certain rules that you should follow:
#1 Avoid causing disturbance to your neighbours
As you’re running a home-based food business, your business should not be taking place on a large-scale level and cause disturbance to your neighbours – affecting their day-to-day lives.
Of course, there are also other things that could cause your neighbours disturbance – such as excessive dumping of waste in the common area – so I would say the general rule of thumb would be to just: “Avoid doing anything that you would not like your neighbours to do to you”.
Happy Neighbours, Happy Life.
#2 Avoid changing the residential nature of the premise
Under this regulation, do avoid placing signages, posters or advertisements around your block (or other blocks) to advertise your new home-based business as it is strictly against the rules stipulated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
You should also avoid any renovation or installations of heavy equipment or appliances that are not intended for domestic usage. For instance, if you’re looking to start a baked goods business, you should not be going out of your way to turn your house into a mini bread manufacturing line by installing multiple industrial-sized ovens.
Setting up of any storage facilities for food storage is also strictly off the board if you’re running a home-based food business as these facilities are tightly regulated by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). To set up a storage facility, you would need to register with SFA and obtain a licence.
#3 Limitations to who you can sell to (covered in a later section)
As a home-based food business, you unfortunately have restrictions on whom you can sell to. This will be further explained in detail in the later section.
#4 Avoid sales of raw ready-to-eat seafood
You should avoid selling any raw ready-to-eat seafood such as fish, crustaceans or shellfish. These are considered high-risk foods as they do not undergo the standard cooking process of ready-to-eat foods.
#5 Other notable regulations of the Home-Based Business Scheme (URA)
Apart from the regulations above, other important rules from the URA include:
1. The business MUST be operated by the owners, registered occupants, or tenants of the flat (tenants should obtain consent from the flat owners before starting up). This means that if you’re running a home-based business, you should be doing it from a place that is legally under your name.
You should also avoid engaging third parties or non-residential employees to assist in the running of your business
2. There should not be any frequent loading or unloading of goods, where your house is being used as a distribution centre.
Applied in a food-based business context, actions you might want to avoid include catering (selling large amounts of food) or having bulk loading or unloading of ingredients which could be potentially be disruptive to your neighbours.
3. Your activities should comply with the regulations of other related authorities. As a food-based business, the related authorities you should look out for are the SFA (Singapore Food Agency) and FSSD (Fire Safety and Shelter Department).
The regulations of the SFA are covered in the next section.
With the FSSD, small things that you might want to note include having a fire extinguisher readily accessible (or other forms of fire suppression) or routinely having checks on the workability of your fire protection systems.
#6 Sales can only be done from home and online
As a home-based food business, your sales can only be done in-person at your home or through online means – using delivery services.
What are the laws that apply to home-based businesses?
As a home-based business, there is currently no licence that you are required to obtain. As quoted from the SFA, home-based food businesses are (as of 2021) considered to have a small food safety risk and thus do not yet require licencing.
Nonetheless, home-based food businesses should ensure food safety through:
- Ensuring that ingredients/food sold are obtained from SFA-regulated sources
- Ensuring food preparation and processing are done in a safe and hygienic manner
Failing to watch for food safety and causing harm to consumers would still lead you to be held liable for negligence. For instance, the SFA has issued suspensions to home-based food businesses that have caused harm to their consumers.
Apart from those basic rules and regulations mentioned in the previous section, other specific regulations that you should be aware of include
- Environmental Public Health Act – EPHA
- Sale of Food Act – SOFA
- Home-Based Business Scheme – HBBS (explained above)
- SFA Guidelines
- Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) Food Safety Course Level 1.
Environmental Public Health Act – EPHA
With the EPHA, important details to look out for include:
- Water Safety – ensuring that any water used within food preparation or consumption is of appropriate purity and quality
- Food Hygiene Regulations – ensuring that food is fit for consumption and handled and stored appropriately
Sale of Food Act — SOFA
The Sale of Food Act (SOFA) serves to regulate food sales to ensure safety for human consumption. For instance, under Section 15 of the SOFA, all food providers are required to avoid the sales of food which they suspect or know is unsafe for human consumption.
Other important sections that you might want to take note of include:
- Section 8 – which states that any food made can be legally subjected to sample analysis upon request (so keep your food clean, if not people might just test it!).
- Section 11 – which states that an individual should not sell (or distribute) adultered food without informing their purchasers. Adultered food refers to food which have had ingredients changed and this should be avoided to prevent potential allergic reactions.
- Section 13 – which states that if food products contain ingredients (such as alcohol) which have their usage regulated, food manufacturers should ensure that they follow the stipulated regulations.
- Section 49 – which states that for breaching any rules within SOFA, first timers will be liable to a fine of up to $5000 while repeated offenders will be subjected to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 months.
SFA Food Guidelines
The Food Safety & Hygiene guidelines mainly identify the does and don’ts to look out for – many of which are covered through the article – such as ensuring compliance with HDB & URA guidelines, only providing services to the appropriate customers and avoiding sales of raw ready-to-eat seafood.
Six important rules of food safety and hygiene are also emphasised within the guidelines:
#1 Practising Good Personal Hygiene
This includes basic acts such as washing your hands with soap after handling raw food, disposing of waste or visiting the toilet. With your utensils, always ensure that raw and cooked food are allocated separate utensils (to prevent cross-contamination) and that utensils are properly sanitised before usage.
#2 Using Safe Food Ingredients
Ingredients or supplies used should come from SFA-licenced or approved sources. These supplies should also be stored in the proper storage conditions to prevent spoilage.
#3 Safe Storage of Food
The 3 golden rules of food storage are:
1. Ingredients and food should be stored in covered containers to avoid exposure to the environment (dust or dirt in the air).
2. Raw food should be stored in tightly sealed (air-tight) containers and away from cooked or ready-to-eat food to avoid cross-contamination.
3. Perishable food should be kept refrigerated or frozen until they are to be used (or delivered)
#4 Safe Defrosting of Food
When defrosting, ensure that ingredients are fully thawed before cooking and that only the appropriate amount of ingredients are thawed at any given time (to avoid refreezing).
Thawing should also only be done in (1) The refrigerator (2) the Microwave oven (3) Submerged in water (while within a sealed container). At no point during the thawing should the ingredients be exposed to air unless within a heated microwave oven – to minimise exposure to contaminants in the air.
#5 Safe Preparation of Food
Four steps to ensure safe food preparation include:
1. Using separate gloves or utensils when preparing raw meats (poultry & seafood) alongside vegetables or pre-cooked ingredients.
2. Using separate chopping boards for raw meats and vegetables
3. Ensuring that food is thoroughly cooked and only cooked at the appropriate time (for instance, you might want to avoid cooking food too early in the day if deliveries are only to be made later in the day)
4. Hot foods should be left above 60°C and cold foods below 5°C
#6 Keeping a Clean Kitchen
Keeping a clean kitchen is as simple as ensuring that your food preparation surfaces and equipment are regularly cleaned and kept free from pests. Proper waste disposal after preparing food will also contribute to maintaining a pest-free spotless kitchen!
Food Safety Course Level 1 (Workforce Skills Qualification)
The WSQ Food Safety Course Level 1 is an initiative by the SFA and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) that aims to impart crucial knowledge and skills regarding Food Safety and Hygiene to its participants over a single day (~7.5 hours to be exact).
The course covers five essential topics:
- Topic 1: Practising good personal hygiene
- Topic 2: Using Safe Ingredients
- Topic 3: Handling food safely
- Topic 4: Storage of food safely
- Topic 5: Proper maintenance of equipment and premise cleanliness
To obtain the qualification successfully, you will have to complete a 1.5-hour assessment at the end of the course – which includes both a practical assessment and a written assessment.
Is the Point Demerit System applicable to home-based food businesses?
Currently, the Point Demerit System is not applicable for home-based food businesses, being only applicable to registered licenced food vendors.
This system is used by the SFA to manage the suspension and cancellation of licences due to food safety infringements. Under the PDS, food safety offences are categorised into three groups:
- Minor Offences – 0 demerit points
- Major Offences – 4 demerit points
- Serious Offences – 12 demerit points
Upon accumulation of 12 or more demerit points within 12 months, the licence of an individual is either suspended (for ~2-4 weeks) or cancelled – depending on their respective previous records of suspension. Suspended individuals are also required to re-attend Food Safety Courses to aid in the refreshment of food safety standards.
Who can you sell to?
As home-based food businesses, there are limitations to the customers you can engage.
Can home-based food businesses sell to licensed SFA food establishments?
You will not be able to be able to sell to licensed SFA food establishments – such as hawkers or restaurants. Food provided to such establishments must meet the following requirements:
- Legally imported
- Prepared in their licensed premises, or
- Sourced from other licensed food establishments in Singapore.
As home-based food businesses are NOT SFA-licenced, licenced food establishments cannot serve foods from home-based food businesses.
Can home-based food businesses do food deliveries?
As a home-based food business, you can do deliveries within Singapore – depending on the scale of the order.
Large-scale food services such as catering typically involve large quantities of food which conflicts with the allowance of the Home-based Small Scale Business Scheme. Large-scale orders are also prohibited due to worries about food safety.
However, if the scale of orders is smaller – such as providing to individual households – deliveries are perfectly fine!
Do note that, unfortunately, you will not be able to sign up as a Grab Merchant (if you had intended to use their services) as Grab requires their merchants or new applicants to possess an SFA licence that has a minimum validity of 2 months.
Can home-based food businesses participate in temporary food fairs?
Unfortunately, as a home-based food business, you will be unable to partake in any food fairs. As per the SFA, only licenced SFA food establishments will be able to obtain the Temporary Fair Stall License required for the setting up of a stall within any food fair.
Can home-based food businesses export out of Singapore?
Before explaining the lengthy process to export goods out of Singapore, the short answer is “No” – unless you intend to apply for a licence with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).
As per the Asia Pacific Food Law Guide, an export permit should be acquired from either the AVA or Singapore Customs before carrying out any sort of food export – depending on the nature of the food to be exported.
Apart from this export permit, other relevant licences include:
- Food Shop Licence – the licence required to operate a food retail establishment that can be obtained from the SFA
- Food Processing Establishments Licence – the licence required to operate an establishment for the manufacturing, processing or packaging of food products (excluding meat and fish) that can be obtained from the SFA
- Meat or Fish Processing Establishment or Cold Store License – the licence required to process meat or fish or to set up a cold store that can be obtained from the SFA
With home-based food businesses being licence-free, you will more than likely lack these licences required for the exporting of products out of Singapore.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a better idea on what you can and cannot do as a home-based food business. On a side note, if the concept of a home-based food business seems too restrictive and you would like to be more adventurous, do not hesitate to contact us at moonbeam.co. We would love to collaborate and work towards scaling up your business ideas!