NUS dining operator serves up halal-food blunder

A dining operator at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was found to have served non-halal roast beef at a halal counter earlier this month.

The beef was served at two dining halls for students from four residential colleges at NUS on Oct 8. Close to 2,400 staff and students, including about 80 Muslims, attended the dinner.

A spokesman for Chartwells, which was appointed the dining operator for both halls in June, told The Straits Times that the lapse "is an isolated incident, resulting from a (chef's) poor judgment call, for which the chef feels deeply regretful". The chef had worked at the kitchens on the NUS campus for "a number of years" and has since been suspended, pending the outcome of Chartwells' full inquiry.

A spokesman for Chartwells, which was appointed the dining operator for both halls in June, told The Straits Times that the lapse "is an isolated incident, resulting from a (chef's) poor judgment call, for which the chef feels deeply regretful".

When contacted, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said Chartwells had breached conditions of the halal certification system, and that Muis "will be taking further action".

Muis said the halal certificate may be suspended or revoked. Anyone found guilty of abusing the Muis halal certificate and logo could also be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to a year, or both.

An NUS spokesman told The Sunday Times that a Muslim student resident had told an academic staff member on Oct 8 that the beef served at a halal counter was prepared in an oven in a non-halal kitchen. Chartwells has halal and non-halal kitchens in NUS. NUS' Office of Housing Services then immediately alerted Chartwells and apologised to the affected Muslims the next day in an e-mail.

The beef had been taken to the halal kitchens before being served at a halal counter, and the halal kitchens were closed after NUS learnt of the incident. They will reopen only after being re-certified by Muis.

While Chartwells is still serving non-halal food, it stopped serving halal food a day after the incident and was replaced by another halal-certified vendor, Eurest Catering. But some NUS students were uneasy with this arrangement.

Mr Syamil Maulod, believed to be from the University Scholars Programme (USP), posted on Facebook on Oct 10 that Eurest Catering and Chartwells belong to the same parent company, Compass Group.

"Our trust was violated. We do not feel it is right to engage the same (parent) company," he wrote.

An article on The Cinnamon Roll, an official online publication of the USP, also said last Sunday that "most students, Muslim and non-Muslim, regard (the lapse) a serious breach of trust".

The NUS spokesman said that getting Eurest to provide halal meals was an "interim measure" and a "third-party, external halal-certified caterer" has been providing halal meals since last Thursday. The caterer is not related to the Compass Group, said NUS.

Compass Group Singapore managing director Andrew Marshall said: "We deeply regret this issue... We continue to work closely with NUS and the student body to rebuild the trust of the community."

A Cinnamon College resident, who declined to be named, said that NUS should have given an assurance earlier and asked the vendor to provide a public explanation.

"Only Muslims need to observe the dietary standard, but if you think about it, it is about food handling in general," he said. "People who are vegetarians, or people who have allergies... we expect their needs to be taken care of."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'NUS dining operator serves up halal-food blunder'. Print Edition | Subscribe