Hours before the authorities terminated the licences of Spize's River Valley outlet, its owners told The Straits Times they had been planning to sell the business soon after a mass food poisoning incident last month that resulted in one death.
Mr Haresh Sabnani, co-founder of the restaurant with four outlets across Singapore, revealed the plan yesterday morning.
Later in the morning, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said at a media briefing that it has terminated the operating licences of Spize restaurant in River Valley Road with immediate effect, in view of the "egregious nature" of the food hygiene lapses it found following the fatal incident on Nov 6.
Seven food poisoning incidents were found to be linked to the outlet, involving 82 people who had fallen ill after eating food from there between Nov 6 and 9.
Mr Haresh did not elaborate on the reasons for the planned sale, but said the owners are "engaging NEA's concerns and action (sic) as expressed in their notice" and are conducting their own investigation into the River Valley outlet. He added that they would be issuing a response in due course.
Meanwhile, he said, "we have taken and continue to take significant steps to ensure that we maintain a high hygiene standard at all our other outlets". He added: "We have also since engaged the services of a credible food hygiene consultant to identify any hygiene issues and to resolve them."
ST understands that Spize was notified of the termination yesterday.
Checks by ST found that the property at 409 River Valley Road belongs to two people not listed as shareholders of the company, unlike the property at 336 Bedok Road, which Spize owns.
Last night, the River Valley outlet's Facebook page had been removed, though the restaurant website still listed a page for the outlet, along with its three other branches in Bedok, Rifle Range and Siglap.
Spize is among 84 food retail establishments that have had their licences suspended by the NEA as of November this year. Numbers from December last year showed that 135 operators had their licenses suspended last year.
"Any operator who accumulates 12 or more demerit points within 12 months will be liable for a two-week suspension under the Points Demerit System," the NEA said in a statement.
It said the top three most common hygiene-related infringements committed by food retail establishments are: Failure to keep licensed premises clean, to keep licensed premises free of pest infestation, and to register food handlers.
Some Spize customers interviewed welcomed news that the River Valley outlet's licences had been terminated, but hoped more could be done to prevent recurrences in the future.
A customer in his 40s, who wanted to be known as Mr Wu, was dining at the Bedok branch of Spize when ST visited the outlet yesterday afternoon. When asked if he was concerned at all about the River Valley outlet's licences being revoked, Mr Wu said that he was eating at the outlet out of convenience.
"It is all right because the problems were at the other outlet at River Valley," he said. "But I am wondering why the other three outlets are not closed as well even when they are under the same boss."
Ms Jeanette Lim, 27, an administrative executive who was a regular at Spize's River Valley outlet, said she felt disturbed at the extent of contamination found during the joint inspection by the agencies.
"I think the NEA should slap a harder penalty on errant operators. This will prevent recurrences of the same event," Ms Lim said.
Mr Kenneth Lim, 39, an insurance agent, said the Spize case might just be the tip of the iceberg.
"If the NEA can't monitor every outlet closely, they should put up rules like harsher fines for violations and impose strict rules on registering workers with the agency. This will deter operators from cutting corners."