Eateries take steps to keep raw fish dishes safe

Fish suppliers alerted to GBS infections and restaurants monitoring imports

Several eateries selling raw fish dishes here are making doubly sure that their supplies are up to the mark, given a rise in Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections here this year.

Many are doing this even though they are not serving the three types of fish linked to the infection - song fish (Asian bighead carp), toman fish (snakehead) and tilapia.

Mr Kevin Cheong, 46, owner of Hinoki Japanese Dining in the Central Business District, called his raw fish suppliers last week to get the assurance that their fish are GBS-free.

"We asked them for necessary certification and are monitoring the situation," he said. His firm imports only sashimi-grade raw fish from Japan, Norway, Thailand and Indonesia, and all its supplies come from farms certified by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), he added.

However, since the GBS scare began in July, demand for raw fish at his eatery has dipped 15 per cent year- on-year with a few customers asking if he served the three fish types linked to the infections. "Some are avoiding raw fish altogether," he said, adding that staff have been reminded to follow proper hygiene procedures.

Hawkers have been told to stop selling such dishes unless they can prove the fish used are from safe suppliers. The Ministry of Health said it has been notified of 355 cases of GBS infection this year.

Japanese restaurant chain Sakae Sushi, which has about 50 outlets here, has informed its suppliers about the GBS scare and is monitoring the matter closely. Mr Douglas Foo, the chain's founder and chairman, said he visits the farms of his raw fish suppliers - in countries such as South Africa - to take samples from the water the fish are reared in for lab tests. Independent auditors visit the farms regularly and each batch of raw fish that arrives here is tested for various bacteria, including GBS.

Supplies are tagged with radio frequency identification chips to track if the cold chain has been broken. The fish are harvested, chilled and iced at the farms, then stored in large refrigerators and either flown or shipped to Singapore. "If the cold chain is broken, the batch will be rejected," said Mr Foo, adding that the restaurant group has not yet seen a dip in demand for raw fish.

The authorities stated last Friday that there is a definite link between the GBS infections - which can lead to meningitis - and Chinese-style raw fish dishes, including raw fish porridge. Hawkers have been told to stop selling such dishes unless they can prove the fish used are from safe suppliers. The Ministry of Health said it has been notified of 355 cases of GBS infection this year.

Supermarket chain FairPrice and the Dairy Farm Group - which runs Cold Storage and Giant - said they have strict standards for temperature control and personal hygiene, and do regular audits. Prime Supermarket chief executive Chong Wee Cheong said the AVA took samples of its fish for testing two months ago and they passed. At Sheng Siong, demand for song, tilapia and toman fish have fallen by 5 per cent from the same time last year. Head purchaser Kong Cheu Soon said staff have been reminded to tell customers the fish are not for eating raw. AVA tests on its supplies have come up negative.

But consumers like Madam Amutha Kumaran, 45, a sales executive who has two children, are playing it safe. "I told my family not to eat any more raw fish," she said.

•Additional reporting by Linette Lai


What it should have been

Published on 09 December 2015

In the Nov 29 report, "Eateries take steps to keep raw fish dishes safe", Hinoki Japanese Dining owner Kevin Cheong was quoted as saying that he imported raw fish only from farms certified by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). The AVA has clarified that it does not certify such farms but conducts inspection and sampling of imported food, including fish, at import points.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Eateries take steps to keep raw fish dishes safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe