SINGAPORE - At least 49 people have fallen ill with gastroenteritis after eating food prepared at Spize Restaurant, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Nov 9).
Of the 49 cases, 21 were hospitalised. All of the affected individuals had consumed food that was prepared at Spize Restaurant's River Valley Road outlet on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Health (MOH), the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and NEA were first notified of the cases on Wednesday and conducted a joint inspection of the restaurant's premises on the same day.
During the inspection, they found several hygiene lapses. Food that was ready-to-eat was left uncovered in a chiller, soap was not provided for people to wash their hands, the soap dispenser was faulty, and knives for preparing ready-to-eat food were slotted in the gaps between food preparation tables.
The NEA said Spize was instructed to rectify the issues immediately, and had the licence of its River Valley Road outlet suspended "to protect consumers from public health risks from the continued operation of the foodshop".
Additionally, Spize was told to dispose of all ready-to-eat food, thawed food and perishable food items and conduct a thorough cleaning and sanitising of its premises, equipment, utensils, work surfaces and toilets.
Spize must also review and rectify the lapses in the food preparation processes that were identified during the joint inspection.
The River Valley Road outlet's licence will remain suspended until NEA is satisfied that the public health risks have been addressed.
NEA said it would take necessary enforcement actions against Spize for the infringements found during the joint investigation.
"Licensed food operators have the responsibility to put in place systems and processes to ensure high hygiene standards are observed by their food handlers at all times. Food operators are also reminded to ensure that all food handlers are registered with the NEA and that they do not engage in any food preparation if they are sick," the NEA said.
NEA added that food retail outlets are inspected regularly and strict enforcement action will be taken against any errant food retail outlets.
The NEA advised members of the public to report such incidents by calling its 24-hour NEA Contact Centre on 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255-632).
Food and environmental samples from Spize Restaurant in River Valley Road were collected by AVA as part of the investigation. Laboratory tests are ongoing.
MOH has collected stool samples from some of the people who were affected and referred the outlet's food handlers for stool screening.
Spize has since apologised for the incident.
Reports about the incident began circulating on forum Hardwarezone at around 11.20am on Friday, with netizens saying that cases of food poisoning had occurred after people consumed food from one of Spize's outlets.
At about 6.10pm on the same day, Spize Bedok wrote on its Facebook page: "We the management at Spize would like to firstly offer our most sincere prayers for those affected by the food poisoning case."
Spize said that its River Valley outlet supplied 88 bento sets to an unspecified location on Tuesday, and that it was aware of 15 people who fell ill after consuming the sets.
Spize stated that it is working with MOH and NEA to identify the cause of the incident.
"We are committed to take any necessary action required. We would also like to wish a speedy recovery to those that have been affected," Spize added.
According to its website, Spize, which opened in 1997, is a restaurant which sells Singaporean, Thai, Indian, Western and Mediterranean food.
It has four outlets - the other three are in Bedok, Rifle Range and Siglap. Customers can order bento boxes online from its Asian, Mediterranean and vegetarian menus.