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    Jan 15, 2015

    Hotpot Culture comes clean on rat scare

    THE owner of Hotpot Culture admitted yesterday that a dead rat was found in one of its dishes, even as the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it will be taking the Chinese eatery to task.

    The restaurant, located at Marina Square shopping mall, has been under investigation since Friday, after NEA received feedback that a rat carcass was found in a vegetable dish at its porridge buffet spread.

    The restaurant's operations have been suspended.

    In a statement yesterday, NEA said it will take "enforcement action" against Hotpot Culture, after investigations turned up dried rat droppings on the restaurant's storeroom floor and a false ceiling of the kitchen. Gaps were also found in the kitchen's false ceiling and the storeroom wall, which could have been "possible points" for rats to enter the kitchen.

    NEA has ordered the restaurant to seal up potential entry points and ensure proper housekeeping and food storage, among other things. The agency added that it will continue to monitor the restaurant's pest control treatment and hygiene practices.

    Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Hotpot Culture's owner, Lim Choon Kok, said that a rat had been found in a salted vegetable dish, although the eatery's supervisor denied this earlier.

    The dish, which will no longer be served, had to be cooked a day before and could not be covered completely as the vegetables would "turn sour", he said.

    "Unfortunately, a rat went in," said the 58-year-old. "The chef has apologised and I have given him a warning letter."

    Mr Lim said he has since spent $3,000 sealing up the entry points and conducting rodent treatment, after two rats were caught by its pest control operator on Sunday. He added that rat treatment, which involves sanitisation by misting, will be conducted every week instead of once a month.

    Marketing manager Caron Chan, 31, who alerted NEA to the incident, said she hopes it will serve as a "strict warning" to those in the food business.

    "They should maintain (a certain) level of standard and they have to be ethical about it," said Ms Chan. She was dining with her colleagues when she discovered the rat in the vegetable dish.

    NEA said operators of food establishments have a duty to ensure that their premises are clean and free from pests, with a good cleaning regime and an effective pest control programme.

    "NEA takes such lapses seriously and will not hesitate to take errant operators to task," it added.

    If convicted, licensees who sell unclean food can be fined up to $2,000. They will also get six demerit points.