Oysters, sashimi to blame for food poisoning?

SINGAPORE - An enjoyable department dinner at a seafood restaurant at Marina Bay Sands ended with 11 colleagues being hit by food poisoning, with two having to be hospitalised.

Mr Shawn Teo, 29, who works as a portfolio control associate in an investment management firm, had organised the dinner at Todai, an award-winning seafood restaurant which opened its first South-east Asian outpost last March.

He chose this restaurant as the Singapore branch was near his Raffles Quay office.

But over the next two days, 11 of his 16 colleagues who had dined there on Dec 9 came down with food poisoning.

Mr Teo said he vomited twice and had diarrhoea 10 times within 36 hours.

On Dec 12 , he went to see his company doctor, who confirmed that it was food poisoning and gave him medical leave.

As his symptoms were no longer as severe, he did not take any medication and went to work.

At the office, he learnt that some of his colleagues in the same department had similar symptoms.

These colleagues were the ones who had eaten raw oysters at the restaurant, so they guessed that was the problem.

He said: "I never expected to get food poisoning from their food as I've eaten there a few times before. The oysters tasted fine that night. I ate 20 of them.

"It was only towards the end, they were not as cold and felt as if they were kept under room temperature."

Two of his colleagues had to be hospitalised for twoto three days as their symptoms were serious. Mr Teo felt responsible for what happened so he decided to inform Todai on Dec 12 and also contacted the authorities.

Todai Singapore's senior marketing manager, MrBrandon Chu, told The New Paper that officers from the Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency inspected the restaurant on Dec 13 and took samples of their oysters.

Followed instructions

Followed instructions

The restaurant followed instructions from the authorities to send six of their kitchen staff to the Communicable Disease Centre.

Although the restaurant had no official confirmation that the oysters were the cause of the food poisoning (see report below), they took action almost immediately after Mr Teo's call.

They reimbursed the full cost of the dinner, which was about $1,600.

They decided to give the 11 diners $100 each to cover their medical expenses, so Mr Teo received $1,100 on behalf of his colleagues.

Mr Chu also called the other 10 diners personally to convey his apologies.

In addition, Todai will pay for one of the hospitalisation cases, where the diner was admitted on Dec 10. This is estimated to be about $1,400.

The second hospitalisation case is pending the outcome of investigation by Todai's insurance company as it took place a week after Dec 9.

Mr Teo said that a colleague in his 30s, who has a weak stomach, had taken medication for vomiting and diarrhoea the day after eating oysters.

He went to the hospital a few days later when the symptoms persisted and got worse.

Mr Chu said oysters are their most sensitive seafood and they have been careful when handling them.

They are harvested from the sea in Canada, frozen and flown to Singapore. The oysters Todai receives in the morning are served on the same night.

"Each oyster is opened only when requested by the customer... we do not leave them open on the buffet table. Any leftovers are thrown away at the end of the night," he said.

To further improve the way they handle oysters, the restaurant has stopped using plain water to wash them. Now, they use salt water and lemon juice.

When the chairman of Todai, who is based in Korea, was informed of the suspected food poisoning, he assigned their food safety director to fly to Singapore the very next day on Dec 13.

The director is an expert in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, which is a systematic preventive approach to food safety.

When asked if such measures are unusual in the food and beverage industry, celebrity food guru Violet Oon said: "Most restaurants in Singapore I think would not have responded so generously.

"By responding in such a heartfelt way, I get the message that the customer is of utmost importance toTodai."

Mr Ambrose Anthuvan, 27, who was one of Mr Teo's colleagues who received the $100 compensation, said: "I thought it was good on their part to recognise that something could be wrong."

Despite feeling bad over what happened, Mr Teo said he would go back to Todai and eat oysters again.

He said: "If they have taken the necessary measures to prevent another such incident, why not?"

Two incidents on the same day

Two incidents on same day

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said they were notified of two suspected food poisoning incidents last month.

It involved 14 people from two different groups who developed symptoms of gastroenteritis after a buffet dinner at Todai Restaurant on Dec 9.

Of the 14, one was hospitalised and the rest sought outpatient treatment. All have since recovered.

A joint inspection was conducted by MOH and NEA on Dec 13 at Todai Restaurant. The inspection revealed that the premises were clean and satisfactorily maintained.

The spokesman said: "The 14 persons had consumed raw oysters, salmon and tuna sashimi at the buffet dinner. Six other attendees in these two incidents did not consume any raw oysters or sashimi and were well."

As a precautionary measure the supplier stopped selling the same batch of oysters.

Apart from the two incidents, MOH and NEA did not receive any other feedback on food poisoning from the same restaurant.

This article was first published in The New Paper.