Irvins Salted Egg CEO aware of dead lizards in the brand's products since last August

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Irvins Salted Egg’s CEO, Irvin Gunawan, personally sent emails to two customers in August 2018 apologising for dead lizards found in products they bought. Right: A dead lizard found in a bag of salted egg fish skin bought by Jane Holloway in Bangkok. (PHOTOS: Screenshot from SCMP video, Decha Holloway)

More reports of lizards in Irvins Salted Egg snacks have emerged since a Thai woman revealed on Facebook last week that a dead gecko was found in a pack of the brand’s salted egg fish skin.

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore has learnt that the CEO and founder of the popular snack brand, Irvin Gunawan, was aware of dead lizards appearing in the company’s products as early as August last year, months before he apologised publicly over the latest case on Wednesday (2 January).

No product recall was made by the company last year. Gunawan’s press statement this week referred only to the latest case in Bangkok and did not mention other previous similar incidents.

Two customers told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that they also found the dead creepy-crawlies in their Irvins snack pouches. One made the discovery in March last year, the other in August. In emails seen by Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Gunawan personally apologised to these customers in August 2018 after they complained to the company.

One of the customers reported the incident to Singapore’s food regulator, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA). After investigation, the AVA informed her that it did not find hygiene problems at Irvins’ premises.

Wife screamed on finding lizard

Kevin Nguyen, a Vietnamese national from Ho Chi Minh City, said he bought a few bags of potato chips and fried fish skin at Irvins’ outlet in Changi Airport when he came to visit his brother living in Singapore. He bought the snacks on 18 March before his flight back to Vietnam, and his wife opened the offending bag of fried fish skin on 30 March.

“She picked up the lizard from the bag, then screamed and threw it down,” said the 30-year-old iPhone salesman.

Nguyen described the dead lizard as “dry, dark brown and black” and “smaller than a finger”, similar to that in the photos posted on Facebook by Thai national Jane Holloway last Saturday (29 December), who made her purchase at a supermarket in Bangkok.

Nguyen posted a photo of the lizard on Facebook on 30 August, though his post did not go viral like Holloway’s. Staff from Irvins Salted Egg contacted Nguyen on seeing the photo and offered him a free bag in exchange.

In response, Nguyen gave the company his brother’s email address. On 31 August, CEO Gunawan, who is an Indonesia-born Singapore resident, emailed Nguyen’s brother personally to apologise and offered to compensate him for medical fees if necessary. Nguyen did not press Irvins for a compensation.

“I want to say sorry to you and your brother for the incident,” wrote Gunawan. “I have initiated steps to rectify the production so that this will never happen again and we will get AVA to help us too. To the future we will be much more stricter (sic) in our checking and hygiene.”

Dead lizard found in Irvins Salted Egg potato chips bought by Serina. (PHOTO: Shawnne G)

AVA cleared Irvins of hygiene issues after complaint

Serina G, a 36-year-old Malaysian pharmacist based in Perth, Australia, told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that she ordered Irvins snacks through the company’s website on 21 May and 18 June last year. As Irvins delivered only within Singapore and Malaysia for online orders, Serina had the snacks sent to her aunt’s home in Kuching, Malaysia.

Serina did not want her surname to be published in this story.

Shawnne, Serina’s sister, opened a bag of Irvins salted egg potato chips on 26 August and to her horror, the 25-year-old quantity surveyor found a dead lizard after a few munches.

“I ran to the toilet and vomited everything out,” Shawnne told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore. “I didn’t want to get sick the next day.”

Asked whether the lizard could have entered the bag after it was opened, Shawnne said no. “It was black and crispy. If it went in and died, it would have been a fresh lizard, not crispy.”

Serina was similarly disgusted on hearing about the incident from her sister. She emailed Irvins Salted Egg to alert the company to the siblings’ discovery. At first, a staff member offered to refund Serina for the cost of the affected packet in a reply on 27 August.

Then, on 31 August, the same day that Gunawan contacted Nguyen, the CEO also emailed Serina with an apology.

In the email seen by Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Gunawan wrote, “We are doing our very best to rectify our food production so that it will never happen again. We take this matter extremely seriously.”

Serina reported the incident to AVA, which emailed her on 1 October. In its reply, AVA informed Serina that it had completed investigations into the incident and found that Irvins’ premises were “free of pests”. Irvins also conducted adequate checks to prevent foreign contamination, AVA added.

Despite AVA’s assurance, Serina is still spooked by the incident. “I haven’t eaten Irvins’ products since. I now get Golden Duck instead,” she said, referring to a rival brand selling salted egg snacks.

Decha Holloway, Jane’s brother, who found the lizard that sparked Gunawan’s public apology, told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that the CEO emailed him with a similar promise of improving the company’s hygiene processes. Gunawan wrote that the company had moved to “a much newer clean building” and its hygiene standards would be stricter.

Irvins Salted Egg produces all its products in Singapore and distributes them to its stores overseas. The brand has seven stores in Singapore and three stores each in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The company is famous for its salted egg-flavoured potato chips and fried fish skin, which are very popular among locals and tourists. The huge success of Irvins’ snacks has spawned other brands selling similar products.

When contacted by Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Gunawan declined to comment. AVA said it had received feedback on the matter and is investigating.

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‘We take full responsibility’: Irvin of Irvins Salted Egg on crispy lizard found in a snack packet