4-year-old's death from eating tainted food a misadventure, says coroner

A four-year-old boy died four days after eating contaminated food bought from a nasi padang stall at a food court, a coroner's court heard. -- ST PHOTO: RUDY WONG
A four-year-old boy died four days after eating contaminated food bought from a nasi padang stall at a food court, a coroner's court heard. -- ST PHOTO: RUDY WONG

SINGAPORE - A four-year-old boy died four days after eating contaminated food bought from a nasi padang stall at a food court, a coroner's court heard.

Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam, together with his mother and two-year-old sister, came down with food poisoning on Jan 19 this year, a day after his mother had bought food, including tahu goreng and curry chicken, from a nasi padang stall at Kopitiam food court at Northpoint Shopping Centre.

All three were taken brought to Bukit Batok Polyclinic the next day. Shayne was assessed to be severely dehydrated and was prescribed medication.

He showed apparent signs of recovery, but deteriorated on Jan 22 when his mother found him unconscious at home. He died in hospital about two hours later from salmonella septicaemia.

On Thursday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said in his findings that the boy's death underscores that careless food handling and inattention to proper hygienic practices can result in catastrophic consequences on young and vulnerable persons. He found the boy's death to be one of misadventure.

The boy's sister, who was discharged five days later from KK Women's and Children's Hospital, contracted salmonella gastroenteritis. She had salmonella bacteria - which results in symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and cramps - in her stool.

The stall was inspected subsequently and found to have ready-to-eat food that was not covered. A food handler was found to be unregistered.

An assistant director at the Health Ministry's Communicable Diseases Division, Dr Hishamuddin Badaruddin, commented that it was in the preparation of food by food handlers that the most egregious lapses were found.

The most significant lapse, the inquiry heard, was the practice of partial cooking and refreezing of chicken parts.

The kitchen would receive 80 parts of chicken as a batch. After washing the batch, 60 chicken parts were refrozen for use the next day. They would be stored with plastic bags with other raw food at the freezer, a practice which would encourage cross-infection between the raw and partially cooked food.

Swabs from the tongs used to handle food, and the blender found a high concentration of bacteria that exceeded safety limits.

Mr Bay accepted Dr Hishamuddin's opinion that it remained highly likely that the three had contracted salmonella from the nasi padang stall.

The stall was suspended for three weeks and the owner ordered to clean his stall thoroughly. The workers were to attend a mandatory basic food hygiene course.

Madam Siti Abibah Guno, the owner of the stall, told The Straits Times on the phone she had done nothing wrong. The Northpoint Kopitiam assistant manager, Mr Jan Paul Tan, declined to comment.