Raw fish porridge falls out of favour after GBS cases

Several hawkers selling raw fish porridge said they stopped doing so when the National Environment Agency (NEA) advised against it four months ago, and have not restarted sales since then.

"Everyone is scared to death of eating raw fish now," said Mr Kiang Choon Tong, 68, who owns Soon Heng Pork and Fish Porridge at Amoy Street Food Centre.

"Even if I sell it, nobody will buy it. As long as there's raw fish in the porridge, nobody wants to eat it," said Mr Kiang, who now sells pork porridge instead.

Mr Kiang Joon Chin, 60, who owns Zhen Zhen Porridge at Maxwell Food Centre, said: "We haven't been selling any raw fish porridge since July, after the scare. We sell porridge with only cooked ingredients now."

The Straits Times visited three food centres yesterday and found that some hawkers have stopped selling raw fish porridge. Those that do use a species of fish not linked to the bacteria scare in July.

Raw fish dishes are under the spotlight again after 52-year-old salesman Sim Tharn Chun was hospitalised on Thursday last week after eating a raw fish dish at Tiong Bahru hawker centre. He was admitted to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, and remains in critical condition.

In July, the Health Ministry (MOH) said it found a link between the consumption of raw fish and Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections in a "limited number" of cases.

Shortly after, NEA issued an advisory to more than 70 raw fish porridge stalls asking them to temporarily stop selling raw fish dishes made from Song fish, or Asian bighead carp, and Toman fish, also called snakehead. The raw fish pieces are usually served with sesame oil, ginger and chilli.

Preliminary findings from MOH's investigations found some samples from the two species had traces of GBS. In August, MOH reported that GBS cases had fallen from an average of 20 cases a week since the start of the year to around three cases a week in the first three weeks of August. GBS is a common bacteria found in the gut or urinary tract of about 15 per cent to 30 per cent of adults, and does not usually cause disease in healthy people. But it may occasionally cause serious infections of the joints, brain, heart and blood.

It is not known how many GBS cases have been diagnosed in Singapore since January. An MOH spokesman said in July that one of the larger hospitals had treated 76 cases of GBS this year, up from a yearly average of 53 in the past five years.

Yesterday, Mr Sim's wife, Mrs Cathryn Sim, 43, said her husband's condition is not improving.

She said she needed answers on whether "raw fish in Singapore is healthy. I'm not going to blame the hawkers because they don't know".


This article was first published on November 27, 2015.
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