New guidelines on handling ready-to-eat raw fish for importers, restaurants in S'pore

Ready-to-eat raw fish is commonly eaten during the festive season in yusheng, or raw fish salad.
Ready-to-eat raw fish is commonly eaten during the festive season in yusheng, or raw fish salad.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new set of hygiene practices on handling raw fish has been developed for importers, food processors, transport operators, and restaurants, as people gear up for Chinese New Year feasting.

The authorities said they developed the guidelines with the food industry to minimise the risks of bacterial and parasitic contamination of ready-to-eat raw fish - commonly eaten during the festive season in yusheng, or raw fish salad.

This includes the supply and processing of raw fish at source, how it is packaged, labelled and transported, to storage requirements and handling recommendations for food retailers and restaurants.

Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Singapore Standards Council, supported by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation's Standards Development Organisation, worked with the the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and other key industry players including Sakae Holdings to develop the guidelines, known as Technical Reference 79.

"Ready-to-eat raw fish is considered a high risk food as it does not go through a cooking process to kill any pathogens and other harmful organisms found in the raw fish. Consumers who choose to consume raw fish must be aware of the risks that are associated with it," said SFA deputy chief executive Tan Lee Kim.

Dr Tan, who is also director-general of Food Administration, added that food safety is a "joint responsibility shared between the industry and consumers".

ESG director-general of quality and excellence, Ms Choy Sauw Kook, said the guidelines will provide consumers with greater transparency and assurance of the safety of their food.

Ms Lilian Foo, chief executive officer of Sakae Holdings, said the launch of the guidelines is "the manifestation of the dedication and collaboration of all stakeholders".

"This code of practice embodies the fundamentals of inculcating food safety in the production of ready-to-eat raw fish," said Ms Foo, who was a co-convenor of the working group that developed the guidelines.

In 2015, after a mass outbreak of 360 infections caused by the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacterium that led to two deaths, the sale of ready-to-eat raw freshwater fish was banned in Singapore.

The bacteria has not been found in saltwater fish. Infection rates dropped after the ban, which is still in place.

Last August, a spike in GBS cases was recorded, prompting a probe by the authorities. SFA later said in an update that raw fish dishes were not sold by food stalls visited by patients who contracted the bacterial infections.

Guidelines to consumers on the safe handling of ready-to-eat raw fish at home

- Follow the instructions indicated on the package on the handling and storage of ready-to-eat raw fish.

- Discard and do not consume ready-to-eat raw fish that has expired.

- Purchase perishables such as ready-to-eat raw fish at the last stop of your shopping trip.

- Keep ready-to-eat raw fish in insulated bags.

- Place ready-to-eat raw fish in the chiller to maintain the temperature between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius as soon as possible.

- Thaw frozen ready-to-eat raw fish in the chiller section of the refrigerator;

- Wash your hands, kitchen utensils and table-tops with water and detergent thoroughly before and after processing ready-to-eat raw fish.

- Use separate utensils and appliances for the preparation of ready-to-eat raw fish and cooked food to prevent cross-contamination.

- Apply these basic rules for ready-to-eat raw fish: keep it clean; keep it at the correct temperature in the chiller or freezer; and do not refreeze.