SINGAPORE - More than 50 people fell ill after eating food provided by food caterer Elsie's Kitchen in February, resulting in its food hygiene grade cut to "C" last Friday (May 24).
In a notice on its website, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said that 52 people reported gastroenteritis symptoms after consuming food from Elsie's Kitchen on Feb 1. Symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhoea or vomiting.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an SFA spokesman said on Saturday that there were foodborne pathogens detected in the stool samples of those affected, and it was likely associated with the consumption of food provided by Elsie's Kitchen.
Following investigations, SFA adjusted the food caterer's hygiene grade with effect from last Friday, adding that it would be reviewed after a year.
The premises at 21 Second Chin Bee Road would be kept under surveillance in the meantime, said SFA.
The SFA spokesman said that Elsie's Kitchen has since improved its practices to ensure all ready-to-eat and cooked food are covered and packed promptly.
The SFA website records showed that the caterer previously held an "A" food hygiene grade.
According to the caterer's website, Elsie's Kitchen has been operating since 1954 and caters to more than 20,000 meals daily on average.
It is a halal-certified catering company offering services for weddings, barbecues, tea receptions, corporate buffets and more.
SFA said that the public may view the revised hygiene grade of the caterer after 12 months on its website.
The agency added that food operators are reminded to adhere to good food hygiene and preparation practices. Temperature control helps to keep food safe by preventing harmful bacteria from multiplying to unsafe levels, said its spokesman.
As bacteria grow most rapidly between 5 deg C and 60 deg C, it is important to keep hot food above 60 deg C and cold food below 5 deg C always, she said.
Elsie's Kitchen managing director Reuben Ang revealed details of SFA's investigations in a statement on Facebook on June 3, as well as the measures the caterer has since taken to improve food safety.
He also apologised to those who were affected by the incident.
Mr Ang said that on Feb 4, officers from the National Environment Agency, Ministry of Health and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore made an "unannounced visit" of its central kitchen as part of their investigations.
The officers inspected the premises and took food samples, water samples, hand swabs and equipment swabs for testing.
SFA later found that there was improper storage of chopping boards, which were stacked under the work table instead of on a rack. The caterer had also failed to properly cover ready-to-eat food in the freezer.
Both observations were rectified immediately following the inspection, Mr Ang said.
Since SFA's visit, Mr Ang said that Elsie's Kitchen has conducted an extensive review of the critical control points in its food safety management system and has implemented changes to its operations.
These include installing personal protective equipment change zones at all access points to ensure that staff conduct proper hand-washing routine before entering the kitchens.
Last week, 59 people fell ill from eating food at two homes at Pelangi Village, a social welfare complex in Buangkok.
The source of food poisoning was traced to the consumption of food prepared at Kate's Catering, and its operating licence was suspended for a total of 52 days before the suspension was lifted on May 17.
In February, ST reported that catering company Team Catering's food hygiene grade had been downgraded to "C" after 179 Raffles Institution students fell ill after consuming its food at a graduation event last October.