SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Agri-Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Saturday (Dec 5) announced that the use of freshwater fish in all ready-to-eat raw fish dishes will be banned with immediate effect.
NEA said tests by AVA and NEA showed that freshwater fish have "significantly higher" bacterial contamination than saltwater fish, and are likely to present higher risks of infection when consumed raw.
It added that effective immediately, all retail food establishments that wish to sell ready-to-eat raw fish dishes are to use only saltwater fish intended for raw consumption.
According to the authorities, such fish are usually bred or harvested from cleaner waters and stored and distributed according to "appropriate cold chain management practices".
MOH, AVA and NEA said the ban is in place to help protect consumers and "give greater peace of mind" to the public, ahead of Chinese New Year.
This comes after a spike in Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections reported in June, where some patients fell ill after consuming yusheng, a raw fish dish typically eaten with congee.
NEA on Nov 27 alsoissued an advisoryfor the sale and consumption of raw fish dishes after further investigations into the increase of infections.
WORKING WITH INDUSTRIES ON COMPLIANCE
MOH, AVA and NEA added that food stalls in hawker centres, coffeeshops, canteens and food courts, as well as food establishments providing catering services are required to stop the sale of all ready-to-eat raw fish fishes using saltwater fish until they can comply with the practices required for such dishes.
NEA said it would issue notices to retail food establishments to inform them of the ban on the use of freshwater fish for ready-to-eat raw fish dishes.
AVA and NEA added that it would conduct engagement sessions "over the next few weeks" to help fish suppliers and retail food establishments understand the requirements for the sale of fish intended for raw consumption.
Restaurant operators, on the other hand, can sell ready-to-eat raw saltwater fish dishes, if they comply with the practices required for such dishes, NEA said. It noted that restaurant operators "generally observe proper cold chain and food handling management in their food preparation, and the fish used in their ready-to-eat raw fish dishes is also typically sourced from suppliers of fish intended for raw consumption."
"NEA's surveillance data indicate that such fish sampled from restaurants have low levels of overall bacterial contamination," it said.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
NEA emphasised that members of the public should not consume raw freshwater fish. If they wish to eat raw fish, they should only consume saltwater fish intended for raw consumption.
It added that most fish sold at Singapore's wet markets, fresh produce section of supermarkets and fishery ports do not meet the appropriate cold chain management practices and should not be eaten raw.
Vulnerable groups of people, including young children, pregnant women, the elderly or people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes should avoid consuming all types of raw fish as well, NEA, AVA and MOH cautioned, adding that cooking fish is still the most effective way to kill bacteria.
In the first half of the year, the number of GBS cases at hospitals rose from an average of 150 a year in the past four years to 238 a year. In July, with some samples of raw fish found to contain GBS bacteria, the NEA advised stallholders to temporarily stop selling raw fish dishes using Song and Toman fish.