On Friday, November 27th, after further investigation into a June spike of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) cases, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued an advisory warning against the sale and consumption of raw fish. Food stalls have been told to immediately stop selling raw fish dishes until they adhere to guidelines that will be laid out by the NEA.
What is Group B Streptococcus?
GBS is a common bacteria and can often be found in the intestines and lower genital tract of humans. It is usually harmless to healthy adults, however, it poses a high risk to newborns, the elderly and adults with some chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or liver disease. It can also be found in many mammals and has also been found in fish.
As of the 27th of November last year, there have been 355 reported cases GBS, and this is against an average of 150 cases per year in recent years. By June 2015, 238 case had already been reported and, after finding GBS present in some samples of raw fish, the NEA took action in July advising stall holder to temporarily stop selling raw fish dishes that use Song or Toman fish. In recent weeks, there has been a dip in the number of GBS cases being reported, however, the direct cause of the infections remains unknown. The raw fish are usually served in restaurants or are often served in events like seminar or business lunch.
Where has it come from?
A joint investigation between the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) concluded that food handlers are unlikely to be the source of the bacteria. Unfortunately, whilst they have almost eliminated food handlers as an entry point for the bacteria, the authorities are no closer to uncovering where it is entering into the food supply chain; whether it be fish ports, market stall, or somewhere in-between.
What does this mean for the sale or purchase of raw fish dishes?
The NEA are set to inform over 70 stalls that currently sell raw fish to halt the sales of such products until the NEA lays forth the advisory and guidelines which will soon be issued to the vendors regarding the safe handling of raw fish. This ban will stay in effect until the stalls comply with the new NEA guidelines. The NEA will also continue to closely monitor vendors in Singapore to ensure compliance.
On the 5th of December 2015, the NEA stepped it up and banned all fresh-water fish from ready-to-eat raw fish dishes. This applies to all Food stalls and Singapore catering services.
If you intend to prepare and consume your own raw fish dish, like yusheng, you should ensure that your fish are procured from sources where the fish are intended for this purpose; for example, from your supermarkets dedicated raw fish counter. The ban from the NEA is only for the sale of raw fish dishes, and the NEA has not issued any guideline for the sale of fish for preparation at home.
What else do I need to know?
The fish that this whole ordeal has been linked to are Song and Toman, however, the NEA has advised all consumers to exercise caution when consuming all raw fish, or any other raw foods. Stalls have stopped using Song and Toman in their raw fish dishes and have replaced it with other fish, such as Xi Dao; a species not linked with this spike in cases.
The Bottom Line
The consumption of raw foods has its inherent dangers and this is why the NEA and other groups are taking this spike in cases very seriously. However, this is not intended to stop people from enjoying the food they love. If you are preparing raw fish dishes yourself, avoid Song and Toman fish, whilst taking extra care when preparing other raw fish or food products.