Last updated on September 19th, 2017
You can drink tap water in Singapore
Finding clean food stalls in Singapore is relatively easy. Unlike our friends in neighbouring countries, we’re lucky to be able to drink water straight from the tap without fear of ghastly stomach upsets or worse.
In fact, when Singaporeans travel around Southeast Asia, they tend to let their guard down a bit too easily when it comes to yummy street food. We all have relatives with stories of holidays spent hunched over potties or bringing home more than souvenirs (amoeba for example…).
Clean tap water is a luxury that Singaporeans enjoy, and sometimes take for granted. Clean tap water has a huge impact on the cleanliness of street foods, hawkers and food courts.
Clean is good, but very clean is even better
Now that we’ve established that the average Singapore food stall is relatively safe, thanks to the use of potable water to wash vegetables, fish, meat, cooking utensils, cutlery etc, it doesn’t mean you can’t get sick.
With some basic precautions, visitors to our island should be generally fine. Cooked crab sitting pretty in the humid heat? No, thank you. Recycled Nasi Goreng (fried rice using left over from yesterday and before). No, thank you.
How about personal hygiene and cleanliness of food handlers? That chef looks pretty jovial, but did she wash her hands properly?
In Singapore you don’t have to guess the cleanliness of food stalls or to trust your instinct on whether it would be safe to gulp down those tempting coconut cream nibbles you’ve been eying the past half hour. Local food stalls are rated by government and display their cleanliness prominently.
Grading of food stall cleanliness by the National Environment Agency
Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) regulates the retail food industry and food outlets to make sure that we can all pig out safely. As with many government matters in Singapore, this is done seriously. And as a food hawker, you know that you have to be very careful…
The NEA’s reach is quite broad and covers restaurants, cafes, bars, supermarkets, and mobile food. The Grading of Licensed Eating Establishments and Food Stalls ensures that food outlets maintain appropriate levels of personal and food hygiene, and housekeeping of their premises.
Food stalls are “advised” to display the certificate with their grade (from a pitiful D to a wonderful A) for customers to see.
A – a score of 85% or higher
B – a score of 70% to 84%
C – a score of 50% to 69%
D – a score of 40% to 49%
The NEA also uses a harsh but fair system of demerit points from a long list of food offenses ranging from carry dirt in vehicle used to carry food, to re-use disposable crockery. The fines can quickly add up and suspension of license acts as a huge disincentive for sloppy cooks.
How does ABCD cleanliness work in practice?
You should make a habit of looking for the big red cleanliness grade at Singapore’s food stalls. It’s usually a big bold black letter on a red background.
Let’s say you really feel like claypot rice today, but the grade of your stall is a measly D. Well, that clay pot rice better be really tasty for you to patronize the stall. And if there is a nearby food outlet with a higher grade, you might go for wonton noodles instead, especially if it’s a B or a perfect A.
Suppose two fishhead curry hawkers offer more or less the same dishes at more or less the same taste, maybe you’ll prefer that cleaner one even if he charges a little extra for washing his hands properly?
In practice, it’s really hard to get an A, so you might have to settle for a B. C is more common and D is quite rare. If you are a finicky customer, spend a little extra time looking for Bs and avoid Ds at all cost. We personally stoop to C only if no B is in sight.
The grading system of Singapore food outlets is great and you should take advantage of it on you gastronomic odyssey of our local delights!
Looking for other places to have a drink or a bite? Check out our favourite party hotspots in Singapore!