Diners so cool over hotpot heat

Diners so cool over hotpot heat

Less than a week ago, five women were taken to hospital with bad burns after they were scalded by hot soup when a portable butane cooker exploded in a hotpot restaurant at Beach Road.

But that has not stopped diners from flocking to the many hotpot or steamboat eateries in the area.

Last evening, seven such joints at Liang Seah Street, off Beach Road, were bustling with customers.

All the diners approached by The New Paper had heard of last Saturday's incident, but were not too worried.

Mr Bryan Goh, 36, a visual merchandiser who has hotpot in the area once a month, said: "I think it's an isolated case. I was a little hesitant, but I still feel that it's quite safe."

Mr Jason Wu, 27, a personal service executive, said he trusts the cookers are safe because of the Safety Mark issued by Spring Singapore, the national standards and accreditation body.

"At most, we just have to be more careful when eating hotpot. I'm sure the authorities will make sure that such incidents don't happen again," he said.

A diner at another hotpot outlet felt such an accident would not happen to him. Mr Teo Chun Kiat, 30, who deals in property, said: "I'm not scared and I think it's okay. I heard about it from Facebook, but it won't happen to me."

The "it won't happen to me" line was echoed by several other diners. All of them said there was no reason to ban such cookers here.

When TNP asked to speak to the bosses of these hotpot outlets, the staff at every outlet said they were overseas.

Those who use the cookers at home also saw little need for a ban.

Miss Carol Yuen, 19, a sports programme scheduler, said her family used a portable cooker in the past.

"They are convenient, so I didn't really think about the risks," she said.

Her family switched to an electric cooker seven years ago. Her father, Mr Yuen Hock Min, 62, said spot checks by the authorities would be sufficient instead of a ban.

Last Saturday, a portable butane cooker exploded at Chong Qing Original Old Steamboat at Beach Road, sending hot soup spewing and scalding five diners. They were taken to hospital with first-, second- and third-degree burns.

Similar portable cookers have been banned in Australia after a man was killed when one of them exploded.

In a TNP online poll yesterday, about 85 per cent of respondents called for these cookers to be banned here. (See report, above.)

Like Chong Qing, the restaurants at Liang Seah Street were using cookers with the name Goldenfuji, which is manufactured and distributed by Swee Huat Heng Engineering.

At the company's premises at Loyang yesterday, a man who gave his name as Mr Naresh said the general manager was not in Singapore.

Mr Naresh, who said he is an assistant to the GM, said: "But he has been trying to contact the victims. We have also been in contact with the authorities and are cooperating with them. This is the first time we have had such an incident with our product."

He added that its range of products, which include various home and kitchen appliances, carry the Safety Mark.

The Consumers Association of Singapore said it had not received any complaints involving portable cookers or stoves exploding for the past three years.

A spokesman for Spring Singapore said gas cookers and canisters used for household purposes are among the 45 categories of controlled goods that must be registered and carry the Safety Mark.

The spokesman said: "For this particular case, Spring is working with the Singapore Civil Defence Force to conduct the investigations and will provide an update when these are completed."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade & Industry, said he was "concerned" and that the agencies were looking into the matter.

Ban them here, say fire safety experts

A fire safety expert, who likened improperly maintained portable gas cookers to potential time bombs, wants them banned in Singapore.

Greencross Safety Fire and Equipment chief executive William Lee, 70, told The New Paper that without regular maintenance, the cookers could become rusty and prone to gas leaks.

"It's like a bomb, because a gas leak can cause an explosion if there is an open flame from the cooker or other cookers around," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee, who has been a fire safety consultant for more than 40 years, said the cookers pose a danger if restaurants use them for long periods and without proper maintenance.

He suggested safety measures such as flashback arrestors being built into the cookers as these would stop flames from travelling back into the canisters and causing them to explode.

Another option is to use electric cookers.

Users can check for gas leaks by applying soapy water and looking out for bubbles.

However, the best way to prevent an accident is to exercise proper usage and maintenance, he said.

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