NEA lifts suspension on Mandarin Orchard premises after norovirus outbreak concerns addressed

NEA said that the banquet kitchen serving the grand ballroom at Mandarin Orchard was suspended for 55 days from Dec 5 to Jan 28 to protect consumers from public health risks. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mandarin Orchard Hotel has reopened its grand ballroom and resumed banquet kitchen operations from Tuesday (Jan 29), as the National Environment Agency (NEA) lifted its suspension on the premises nearly two months after a norovirus outbreak.

In a statement on Tuesday, NEA said that it is satisfied that the hotel at 333 Orchard Road has implemented the measures required to rectify lapses that were detected in joint investigations by the authorities.

A total of 333 people had reported that they suffered gastroenteritis symptoms, after attending five separate events at the Grand Ballroom between Dec 1 and 3 last year.

Fourteen people who were hospitalised have since been discharged.

NEA said that the banquet kitchen serving the grand ballroom was suspended for 55 days from Dec 5 to Jan 28 to protect consumers from public health risks.

During this period, the hotel was instructed to do a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the ballroom.

In their joint investigations, the Ministry of Health (MOH), NEA and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) found strong evidence that the gastroenteritis outbreak was due to severe contamination of the ballroom with the highly contagious norovirus.

This was due to poor environmental and hygiene practices, such as improper cleaning of vomit from an incident in the Grand Ballroom before Dec 1.

Norovirus was detected from the stool samples collected from 26 affected consumers, three food handlers and 51 service staff, including banquet servers who reportedly continued working while they were ill, the statement said.

Environmental swabs collected from the grand ballroom also detected norovirus on the wall panel, carpet, table tops, chairs, unused table cloths, cutlery, and drinking glasses in the ballroom.

NEA said that the hotel has since complied with stipulated measures, such as disposing of all ready-to-eat, thawed and perishable food items.

The hotel has also cleaned and sanitised the premises.

In addition, Mandarin Orchard submitted its plans on enhanced food safety and cleaning regime to ensure that staff practise good food and personal hygiene at all times.

Staff should also not work if they are sick.

NEA added that all food handlers have since attended and passed the Basic Food Hygiene course again.

Under the enhanced Food Hygiene Officer scheme announced in December 2018, all food hygiene officers are required to re-attend the WSQ Conduct Food and Beverage Hygiene Audit course if their food establishment has had its licence suspended.

The establishment must also have a trained food hygiene officer before it can resume operations.

Mandarin Orchard's food hygiene officer has undergone training again and passed the WSQ course.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Mandarin Orchard Singapore's hotel manager Danny Wong said that the hotel is committed to investing resources into an enhanced food safety and sanitation programme across their operations.

"We recognise there is much to be done and we are a long way from winning back the trust and confidence of our customers," Mr Wong said.

"We remain devastated over the outbreak, and we apologise once again to those affected."

NEA said that it is currently reviewing investigation findings and will take appropriate action against the hotel for the lapses.

The authority will continue to place the hotel under close surveillance to ensure that it adheres to its food hygiene plans.

The public is reminded to seek medical attention early if they experience any gastroenteritis symptoms, such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever or abdominal pain.

Those infected with norovirus can pass the virus on to their family members and close contacts, said NEA, which also stressed the importance of maintaining personal hygiene.

To protect against norovirus, individuals should wash their hands with soap and water before handling ready-to-eat food, before their meals and after going to the toilet.

Raw food, especially oysters and shellfish, should be cooked thoroughly.

Clothes that have been contaminated should be washed immediately and contaminated surfaces should be cleaned with diluted bleach.

Individuals with the norovirus infection should also avoid preparing food for others when feeling unwell.

The public can contact MOH on 1800-225-4122 for health-related queries.

For feedback on any hygiene lapses, the public may contact NEA's 24-hour hotline on 1800-225-5632.

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