NEA ban on raw freshwater fish 'won't affect restaurants'

Most restaurants in Singapore use only sashimi-grade saltwater fish for dishes that are served uncooked to customers.

They also follow strict guidelines to ensure that the cold chain is not broken and bacteria do not contaminate the fish. This means that the fish remains frozen from the moment it is harvested up till the point it is served, said Mr Andrew Tjioe, president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

Explaining why restaurants are unlikely to be affected by the National Environment Agency's (NEA) ban on serving raw freshwater fish, he said: "We don't get fish from fishery ports. We get sashimi-grade fish that is fit for raw consumption."

Mr Tjioe, who is also executive chairman of the Tung Lok Group, said his restaurants import their raw salmon directly from Norway.

NEA yesterday banned all food establishments from selling uncooked freshwater fish, such as toman (snakehead) and song (Asian bighead carp) fish. Such fish were found to have significantly higher bacterial contamination than saltwater fish, it said.

Restaurants can still sell raw saltwater fish like salmon, tuna and swordfish, but will be subjected to NEA checks. However, food stalls, including those in hawker centres, canteens, foodcourts and coffee shops, must stop selling both types of raw fish until they have shown they can comply with required practices for handling raw fish.

NEA noted that fish sampled from restaurants have low levels of overall bacterial contamination.

Already reeling from earlier curbs on raw fish dishes, hawkers were dismayed by the ban. "My takings have already halved. Some customers are even avoiding cooked fish porridge," said Mr Clement Yip, owner of Hwa Yuen Porridge at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

He stopped selling a raw fish dish made of the saltwater fish, ikan parang (wolf herring), late last month when NEA advised operators to stop selling Chinese-style raw fish dishes unless the fish comes from suppliers with hygienic practices.

Mr Teo Kiang Yong, who owns a fish porridge stall in Amoy Street, said customers still ask for yusheng-style fish served with ginger and chilli though he stopped selling it after an NEA advisory against the song and toman fish in July.

Meanwhile, supermarket chain FairPrice said it recently ran tests on its sushi products and found them free of pathogens. It has advised customers that fresh seafood sold in its chillers should be properly cooked before consumption.

Madam Irene Choo, 53, who runs her own business, used to eat raw fish at least once a month but now steers clear of it. "It seems quite serious as the authorities are telling food stalls not to sell it."

This article was first published on December 6, 2015.
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