Spate of food poisoning cases suggests more than food hygiene lapses, says Health GPC chairman

The latest incident, which happened on Monday, was traced to the consumption of food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer, located at Shimei East Kitchen in Bedok. PHOTO: FOODTALKS CATERER & MANUFACTURER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - In the span of less than three weeks, Singapore has been hit with a spate of mass food poisonings, affecting over 400 people in all.

While food hygiene lapses could be one cause, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, told The New Paper on Wednesday (Nov 28) that the scale and proximity (in terms of time) of the incidences could very well point to something like a bug or contaminated source.

He added that while investigations were still ongoing and he could not say for sure what the cause might be, the fact that there were multiple incidences despite the rigorous food hygiene standards might indicate that it could be something more worrying than just hygiene.

Caterers would also likely have stepped up precautions after each case.

Thus, careful investigations are being done to determine the cause so that it can be appropriately tackled, he added.

The latest incident occurred on Monday at a learning camp organised by Busy Bees Asia.

The camp was attended by Kindergarten 2 children and teachers. The next day, 131 fell ill. None of the victims have been hospitalised.

After the incident, the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Health and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a joint statement that they were investigating an outbreak of gastroenteritis.

The incident had been traced to the consumption of food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer, located at Shimei East Kitchen in Bedok, on Monday.

On Tuesday, the authorities conducted a joint inspection of the caterer's premises. As part of the investigations, food handlers were sent for stool screening, and food and environmental samples were taken for testing, the agencies said.

TNP understands the camp was meant to span two to three days, but was cancelled on the first day due to the incident.

In response to queries from TNP, Mr Ronald Kwong, director of operations and curriculum at Busy Bees Asia, said the food had been prepared by an external caterer.

Busy Bees Asia suspended the camp and reported the incident to the authorities, and will continue to cooperate with the agencies to determine the cause of the incident, he added.

TNP understands that it was not the first time the organisation had served catered food from FoodTalks.

Mr K. F. Seetoh, a local food expert, told TNP that food poisoning happens even in the world's best restaurants, but with diligence and respect for the kitchen, caterers can avoid such instances.

He said: "It is tempting and easy (for kitchen staff) to not wash their hands or sneeze in preparation areas in the kitchen. There just needs to be tighter control and rules with serious penalties for violations."

He said such incidents are serious and can bring a brand down, and personal hygiene must be practised at all times.

Guidelines and information on food hygiene and safety for consumers can be found on the NEA website, including information on safely consuming catered food.

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