Pre-school caterer suspended after 109 people fall ill

The gastroenteritis outbreak affected four PCF Sparkletots centres in Sengkang Central. The outbreak - the third such case to hit pre-schools in recent weeks - was traced to the consumption of food prepared by Kate's Catering, which was instructed to
The gastroenteritis outbreak affected four PCF Sparkletots centres in Sengkang Central. The outbreak - the third such case to hit pre-schools in recent weeks - was traced to the consumption of food prepared by Kate's Catering, which was instructed to suspend its operations, pending investigations.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

15 taken to hospital after gastroenteritis outbreak hits four PCF Sparkletots centres

A caterer has been suspended following a gastroenteritis outbreak at several PCF Sparkletots centres which saw at least 109 people falling ill, with 15 taken to hospital.

This is the third such case to hit pre-schools since the beginning of last month.

On Feb 1, 14 children vomited and had diarrhoea after eating lunch at a Toa Payoh Sparkletots pre-school.

Then on Feb 26, the authorities said they were investigating after 30 children and a staff member at Tanglin MindChamps pre-school fell ill with gastroenteritis symptoms, also after eating lunch.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times they were investigating the latest case.

The outbreak affected four Sparkletots centres and was traced to the consumption of food prepared by Kate's Catering. A company spokesman said it was working with the respective authorities.

Of the 15 who were hospitalised, six have been discharged.

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE

While the cause of the children's illnesses has yet to be determined, as a precautionary measure, PCF Sparkletots has suspended this caterer's services at all 11 centres for an indefinite period of time.

PCF SPARKLETOTS

PCF Sparkletots, in response to media queries, confirmed that the four affected centres were at Blocks 210, 270, 290A and 298B Sengkang Central. "We are taking this matter seriously and our priority is to ensure that our children receive the necessary medical care and attention," the pre-school operator said in a statement.

The centres are in close contact with parents of the affected pupils and are monitoring their condition. Cleaning and disinfection protocols have been carried out at the centres to reduce the risks of further contamination, it added.

It is also monitoring the situation at seven other centres served by Kate's Catering and is assisting the authorities in the investigation.

"While the cause of the children's illnesses has yet to be determined, as a precautionary measure, PCF Sparkletots has suspended this caterer's services at all 11 centres for an indefinite period of time," the statement said.

It has arranged for meals to be prepared by a certified in-house cook for the time being, and will continue to monitor the temporary arrangement closely, it added.

 
 

The authorities were notified of the first cluster of cases last Friday, and conducted an inspection of the caterer's premises on the same day.

On Monday, however, more clusters of cases were reported, prompting NEA to instruct Kate's Catering to suspend its operations with effect from Tuesday, pending investigations by the various agencies.

As part of the investigation, food handlers were sent for stool screening, and food and environmental samples were taken for testing.

Last year, 131 cases of gastroenteritis were reported after people ate food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer & Manufacturer for a learning camp.

Some parents at the Block 270 Sengkang Central pre-school told ST yesterday that while they were concerned about food safety at the centres, they did not blame the operator for the incident.

Mr Jimmy Lim, whose four-year-old son was back at the centre yesterday after suffering diarrhoea, vomiting and a fever last week, said the incident could have been "inevitable" and due to human error.

"There are so many viruses around, it may not even be food poisoning. We should not be too quick to judge," said Mr Lim, 35, an interior designer.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), the regulatory and developmental authority for the early childhood sector, told ST it was working with the authorities to investigate the outbreak.

It said that together with MOH, NEA and AVA, the agency issued a food hygiene advisory to all pre-schools on March 7. "ECDA has also stepped up health and hygiene checks during routine visits to centres where they are advised on food hygiene practices and infection control measures," it added.

•Additional reporting by Charmaine Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'Pre-school caterer suspended after 109 people fall ill'. Print Edition | Subscribe