Industry Articles

Piping Hot Meals on the Go

1184_1Vending machines are popping up across Singapore, many offering ready-to-eat meals. At the press of a button, out pop rice dumplings, pepperoni pizza, curry chicken, nasi briyani and even chilli crab.

By providing quality fare, available any time of the day or night, food vending machines are gaining converts every day. Polytechnic student Michael Foo ordered his first meal, a spaghetti carbonara, and he was sold. “Most of the time when you think of vending machines, you think of snacks or food that’s completely covered in preservatives, but when it came out, it surprised me,” he told Channel News Asia. “I got the novelty of eating from a vending machine, but also the gratitude of a full meal.”

Initially, Singaporeans were taken by the novelty, and long queues formed at VendCafe at Sengkang, the country’s first all-vending machine café which opened in August 2016. While the queues may have disappeared after the heady start, the interest has remained, as they are in sync with the lifestyle of busy urbanites, offering a quick fix to quell hungry pangs.

Today, food vending machines can be found across Singapore serving hot food on the go.

TR 57: Ensuring Food Safety and Good Hygiene
Rules and regulations have been drawn up to help operators adhere to food safety standards and good hygiene practices. In July 2017, a new set of safety guidelines, the Technical Reference 57: Guidelines on Food Safety and Good Hygiene Practices for the Vending Industry (TR 57) was launched, covering areas such as design and structure, cleanliness and maintenance, food hygiene and temperature controls, food transportation and the location of the machines.

Speaking at the launch of TR 57, Ms Low Yen Ling, then Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education, said, “The standard was developed by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation Standards Development Organisation and SPRING, in close consultation with a wide range of players from the public and private sectors. This included about 20 industry members such as JR Group and Royal Vending. It covers guidelines on issues such as how long the food is kept in the machine, and how the machine is being maintained.”

As ready meals dispensed by vending machines are not subjected to any further cooking to destroy any harmful micro-organisms that may be present, the standard developers have deemed it prudent to set detailed guidelines for vending machine operators to observe in order to ensure the safety of their products.

Apart from general guidelines such as expiry date and the need for seasoning and condiments to be individually packed in single-serve containers, the TR 57 lays down hygiene practices required for food vending machines, including where the machines should be located, how the food should be transported from the factories to the machines as well as the temperature range the machines should maintain to restrict the growth of microorganisms.

By spelling out in detail, the TR 57 offers protection to consumers by ensuring that food dispensed from vending machines is not only good to eat but also safe to eat. It also helps food companies meet the local licensing requirements, thereby speeding up the time for commercialisation of products.

The operational guidelines are “practical for new players entering the food vending industry”, said Jae Teo, managing director of Royal Vending, one of the first vending machine operators in Singapore.