Owner of Hotpot Culture comes clean about dead rat

NEA to take enforcement action as eatery calls in pest control operator

The owner of Hotpot Culture yesterday admitted that a dead rat had been found in one of its dishes, as the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it will be taking the Chinese eatery to task.

The restaurant at Marina Square Shopping Mall has been under investigations since last Friday, after NEA received feedback that a rat carcass was found in a dish at its porridge buffet spread.

The restaurant's operations have been suspended.

In a statement yesterday, NEA said it will take "enforcement action" against Hotpot Culture after investigations showed dried rat droppings on the restaurant's storeroom floor and a false ceiling of the kitchen. Gaps were also found in the false ceiling and a wall in the storeroom, which could have been "possible points" for rats to enter the kitchen.

NEA has told the restaurant to seal up potential entry points and ensure proper housekeeping and food storage, among other things. The agency added that it will continue to monitor the restaurant's pest control treatment and hygiene practices.

Hotpot Culture's owner Lim Choon Kok told The Straits Times that a rat was found in a salted vegetable dish, although the eatery's supervisor had denied this earlier.

The dish, which will no longer be served, had to be cooked a day before and could not be covered completely as the vegetables would "turn sour", he said.

"Unfortunately, a rat went in," said Mr Lim, 58, adding: "The chef has apologised and I have given him a warning letter."

Mr Lim said he has spent $3,000 sealing up the entry points and conducting rodent treatment after two rats were caught by its pest control operator on Sunday. He added that rat treatment, which involves sanitisation by misting, will be conducted every week instead of once a month.

To express its apologies, the restaurant will give a full refund to those who patronised the eatery last Friday (Jan 9), said Mr Lim. The diners can e-mail the restaurant a copy of their receipt issued that day.

Mr Lim added that once the NEA suspension is lifted, he will organise a one-day open house where customers can dine for free.

Marketing manager Caron Chan, 31, who alerted NEA to the incident, said she hopes it will serve as a "strict warning" to those in the food business.

"They should maintain (a certain) standard and they have to be ethical about it," said Ms Chan. She was dining with her colleagues when she discovered the rat in the vegetable dish.

NEA said operators of food establishments have a duty to ensure their premises are clean and free from pests, with a good cleaning regime and an effective pest control programme.

"NEA takes such lapses seriously and will not hesitate to take errant operators to task," it added.

If convicted, licensees who sell unclean food can be fined up to $2,000. They will also be issued with six demerit points.

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