SINGAPORE - Just four months into 2021, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have already investigated 27 incidents of gastroenteritis outbreak, involving more than 800 people.
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Tuesday (May 11) said 13 involved pre-schools and another five affected those at other educational institutions.
Addressing Parliament, Ms Fu noted that there were 33 gastroenteritis incidents in educational institutions in 2019, with 18 occurring in pre-schools.
Gastroenteritis is commonly caused by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and parasites, and can lead to the inflammation of the stomach and intestines, characterised by vomiting and diarrhoea.
It can be transmitted from person to person and through surfaces contaminated by the vomitus or faeces of infected people, as well as through contaminated food and water.
"The joint investigations by SFA and MOH seek to identify the source and cause of contamination, as well as the corrective measures to be taken.
"The outcome of investigations depends on factors such as whether patients seek medical help and testing, and whether the source is still present during investigations," said Ms Fu.
She added that investigations into recent incidents at educational institutions suggested that poor housekeeping in schools and lapses in cleaning could have contributed to the outbreaks.
"For instance, ineffective cleaning agents were used to sanitise areas contaminated with vomitus and faeces. Chopping boards and knives for raw meat and cooked food were also found kept together instead of separately, thus increasing the risk of cross-contamination," said Ms Fu.
She added that government agencies are working closely to reduce the number of such incidents in educational institutions.
The authorities are "particularly concerned" about pre-schools given that young children are more vulnerable, said Ms Fu.
The authorities are taking measures such as issuing guidelines and advisories, as well as conducting health screening for staff and students.
Teachers, food handlers and cleaners are also being briefed on good cleaning practices, personal hygiene and food safety practices.
Ms Fu said that SFA will enhance the food safety training framework for food handlers to better equip them with knowledge and skills to ensure food safety.
Later this year, the authorities will implement an environmental sanitation regime for places such as pre-schools.
This will require premise managers and their appointed environmental control coordinators to develop and implement an environmental sanitation programme on their premises in accordance with sector-specific standards.
"It is a collective effort to combat gastroenteritis outbreaks in our educational institutions," said Ms Fu, adding that the institutions must play their part to keep their students safe by maintaining high standards of environmental and personal hygiene and food safety at all times.
"Parents and caregivers should also keep their sick children at home until they recover, so as to facilitate a healthy and safe environment for all students," she said.