SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) 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 a fatal food poisoning incident on Nov 6.
The agency will also be taking enforcement action against the restaurant for the lapses, including pressing charges in court, after it found an "unusually severe" Salmonella outbreak in its investigations into seven food poisoning incidents between Nov 6 and 9.
A joint inspection on Nov 14 by the NEA, Ministry of Health (MOH) and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) found lapses such as having seven unregistered food handlers and preparing food outside the licensed kitchen area. There were also poor personal hygiene and food preparation practices observed among the food handlers.
An earlier joint inspection on Nov 7, which led to a suspension of the outlet's licences, found lapses such as leaving ready-to-eat food uncovered in a chiller, not providing soap for hand-washing, and slotting knives for preparing ready-to-eat food in the gap between the food preparation tables.
A joint statement by the MOH, NEA and AVA on Friday (Dec 7) said the authorities found seven food poisoning incidents linked to the outlet between Nov 6 and 9, with 82 reported cases out of 221 people who consumed food prepared there.
The fatal case involved Sats officer Fadli Salleh, 38, who had eaten a bento box prepared for a Deepavali celebration organised by security company Brink's Singapore and held on its premises at Kaki Bukit on Nov 6.
The cause of death is pending and has been classified as a coroner's case, said the joint statement. It is unclear what food Mr Salleh ate.
The authorities were notified of the cases on Nov 7 and they conducted a joint investigation, during which they found several hygiene lapses. Spize's River Valley Road branch's licence was suspended at 7pm that evening.
A commonly-occurring bacterium, Salmonella Typhimurium, was found in investigations from blood and stool samples from those who fell ill, as well as from the raw and ready-to-eat food, and environmental samples from the outlet.
They were closely related by genetic analysis, suggesting they are from the same source, said the joint statement.
"The investigations found that the outbreak of Salmonella gastroenteritis was unusually severe, suggesting that the food was likely to be heavily contaminated," added the statement.
In the ready-to-eat food, the salmonella bacterium was found in belacan egg fried rice. It was also found in raw chicken samples and kang kong.
Spize, a popular supper haunt first opened in 1997, has four outlets - the other three are in Simpang Bedok, Rifle Range Road and Siglap.
The NEA has checked these other outlets "as a precaution", and have found no evidence to link the current outbreak to them, which have been allowed to continue operations, said the statement.
The incident was among a number of food poisoning incidents last month that affected about 400 people.
On Nov 26, 131 Kindergarten 2 pupils and teachers fell ill after eating packed meals prepared by FoodTalks Caterer & Manufacturer.
On Nov 23, TungLok Catering, the catering arm of the TungLok restaurant group, had its licence at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo suspended after 190 people reported falling sick after eating food at a Singapore Civil Defence Force event.
The latest incident, at Mandarin Orchard Hotel, led to 175 people falling ill with food poisoning after attending four separate events at the grand ballroom between Dec 1 and 3.
NEA and AVA reiterated on Friday that they are stepping up their checks on food establishments in the year-end festive season, with more people dining out and ordering catered food.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.