SINGAPORE: Aloha Poke has apologised for an incident in which a customer purportedly found a dead spider at the bottom of her poke bowl, and also closed its kitchen in Katong for two days for a "comprehensive investigation and cleaning".
Facebook user Siew Ping wrote in a post last Thursday night (May 10) that she had ordered a Nalu Salmon poke bowl from the raw fish bar via food delivery service Deliveroo. The dish comprises two scoops of marinated raw salmon on a rice and salad base.
Ms Siew said that she and her friend were "happily working (their) way through the bowl" when, to their horror, they found a dead spider, "limp and soaked with sauce", at the bottom of the dish.
"Perhaps spiders are not as bad as rats or roaches, however as Aloha Poke is handling raw food and that is susceptible to bacteria growth and contamination, their hygiene standards cannot be compromised at any time. Having a spider in the midst of their kitchen does say a lot about their vigilance," she wrote.
In an official statement on Monday, the homegrown restaurant chain said that as soon as it became aware of the situation on Friday morning, it reached out to Ms Siew and her husband "to take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly".
Ms Siew wrote in an update to her post on Saturday that she had received a full refund for the meal as well as S$20 in credit.
In addition to this, Aloha Poke wrote that it had advised Ms Siew's husband to update the company should any of those who consumed the food fall ill over the next few days.
"Since then we focused our attention on conducting a thorough investigation and started taking further precautions to prevent such a re-occurrence," Aloha Poke said in the statement.
Co-founder John Chen told Channel NewsAsia that the restaurant had reached out again to Ms Siew and her husband on Monday morning to update them on the investigations.
"We apologise unreservedly for the oversight, but we are confident that it was an isolated incident and has never happened before in any of our outlets. We will continue to improve our processes to ensure such an incident will never reoccur, and to uphold the quality standards expected of Aloha Poke," Mr Chen said.
Ms Siew, in a further update to her post on Monday, noted that her husband had spoken to Mr Chen and been updated about the investigations and assured that the restaurant's team and business partners would "do the right thing".
According to the restaurant, the bowl in question was delivered from its Editions kitchen in Katong, which is rated “A" for cleanliness by the National Environment Agency (NEA). The kitchen most recently underwent a routine monthly pest control check on May 2, Aloha Poke said.
"Nevertheless, after discussions with and obtaining agreement from Deliveroo, we decided to voluntarily close the Katong kitchen for two days for a comprehensive investigation and cleaning. No Aloha Poke outlets will be impacted by this, and the Katong kitchen will resume operations on Wednesday."
"OUR EXISTING MEASURES WERE NOT FAIL-SAFE"
Aloha Poke said in its statement that it had also discussed the situation "at length" with its key salad supplier, a "highly reputable homegrown company known for its quality products".
"Our produce is grown on open fields and even with the controlled use of pesticides, garden insects and pests are inevitable," the restaurant chain said.
It added that the salad supplier has tight procedures, which it is "continuously improving", to promote insect monitoring and removal.
"At Aloha Poke, besides paying a premium to purchase our mesclun salad pre-washed, we take an extra step to ensure that all our salad is washed for the second time and thoroughly checked prior to serving.
"Unfortunately, our existing measures were not fail-safe. We cannot apologise enough for what happened with Siew Ping, but we believe that this was an isolated incident and has never occurred previously at any of our outlets."
The salad supplier, according to Ms Siew's post, happened to be her friend's partner. "He called me soon after seeing my original post and was profusely and sincerely apologetic. He cannot speak for Aloha Poke but he took time to explain that, yes, food safety is of utmost importance and that food safety inspections are conducted by his team before onward distribution."
Ms Siew said that as a consumer, she would hold Aloha Poke, as the "F&B point-of-sale", accountable. "They are customer facing, the ones whom I'm paying for my food, and earning my trust. Let me eat my poke bowl and you go hash out the food safety details and workflow with your associates and business partners."
However, she conceded that it was most likely an isolated incident. "We are humans who make unintentional mistakes. But since Not-So-Small Spidey found a hole in the system and made his/her way into my food, I think it warrants some attention."
Ms Siew said in her post last Thursday that she would submit a report to NEA as the restaurant had told her it was "inappropriate" for them to submit a report to the authority.
Channel NewsAsia has reached out to NEA for comment.
Ms Siew noted on Tuesday that Aloha Poke and its business partners have "stepped up to take concrete corrective actions" after her post went viral.
She said that the companies involved have voluntarily scheduled independent third party audits and will also invite NEA to perform inspections at its discretion.
"This to me is a comprehensive response that acknowledges the unintended consequence and will help Aloha Poke and its business partners win back the trust of its customers," Ms Siew told Channel NewsAsia.