Singapore food vendors told to stop selling raw fish

Singapore food vendors have been warned to stop selling dishes containing raw fish – unless the fish is certified for such purposes.

The order follows investigations by the The National Environment Agency (NEA), Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Ministry of Health (MOH) into a spike in local Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections.

Following the investigations, NEA advises that all retail food establishments that sell RTE raw fish dishes are to source such raw fish from suppliers that adopt proper cold chain management and hygienic handling practices of the fish.

Such practices should be adopted by all suppliers and retail food establishments, who should also practise proper segregation of fish intended for raw consumption from other raw food ingredients intended for cooking. Specifically, in the interest of public health, all food stalls or food shops currently selling Chinese-style RTE raw fish dishes (including Song fish and Toman fish) are to stop the sale of all types of RTE raw fish until they can comply with the practices required for RTE raw fish.

“NEA will not hesitate to take enforcement action against errant food operators,” it declared in a statement.

Most fish sold at Singapore’s general markets and fishery ports are intended for cooking, and should not be eaten raw. Depending on the quality of the waters in which they were bred in, harvested from, or transported in, fish could carry a number of parasites or naturally occurring bacteria. Proper cooking would ensure such bacteria or parasites are killed. Should one choose to consume raw fish, the risk of foodborne illness can be reduced by procuring fish that are intended for raw consumption. Such fish are typically bred or harvested from cleaner waters, and are stored and distributed according to appropriate cold chain management practices. The fish must then be handled hygienically and kept separated from other fish intended for cooking, to avoid cross contamination.

However, members of the public should note that there are always risks involved in consuming raw food as harmful bacteria may be present. They are reminded that cooking raw food is still the most effective way to kill the bacteria. As a general precaution, vulnerable groups of people, especially young children, pregnant women, elderly persons, or people with chronic illness such as diabetes, should exercise caution by avoiding the consumption of raw food.

The MOH’s investigation established an association between the consumption of Chinese-style ready-to-eat (RTE) raw fish dishes and Type III GBS disease, specifically due to Sequence Type (ST) 283.

Since mid-July 2015, following the advisory issued by NEA to licensed retail food establishments to temporarily stop the sale of RTE raw fish dishes using Song fish (also known as Asian Bighead Carp) and Toman fish (also known as Snakehead fish), the number of GBS cases notified to MOH has decreased to the usual baseline of less than five per week and continued to remain low. The cause of these baseline infections remains unknown.

Tests had established that food handlers are unlikely to be the source of the bacteria.

Between August and October, AVA and NEA tested fish samples from retail food establishments, wet markets, fresh produce section of supermarkets, and fishery ports. GBS was detected in 20.1 per cent of these samples, and 4.1 per cent were confirmed positive for Type III GBS ST283, which is the GBS strain associated with the consumption of Chinese-style RTE raw fish dishes. The contamination of the fish could have occurred along the food supply chain.

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