Poor hygiene to blame for mass food poisoning case

Poor hygiene practices were the likely cause of a mass food-poisoning incident in February, an investigation by the authorities has found.

Some 231 people fell ill after eating food supplied by Kuisine Catering over three days in February, the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Health and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a joint statement. Five of those affected needed in-patient medical treatment.

The caterer's food was eaten at events including a Chinese New Year gathering and a birthday party between Feb 12 and 14.

The outbreak was caused by a food-borne pathogen, Salmonella enteritidis, which is normally linked to raw poultry products, the agencies said.

The bacterium was "most likely introduced into ready-to-consume food items as a result of poor personal and food hygiene practices".

Victims suffered from after-effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, according to media reports. Some even had to be put on a drip. All patients have since recovered.

Upstream food suppliers were not found to be responsible. The agencies investigated firms which supplied food items to the caterer and found no safety lapses.

Before the end of the investigations, Kuisine Catering told the NEA that it would cease business and the NEA cancelled its licence.

After being notified of the incidents on Feb 15, the authorities immediately inspected the caterer's premises. The NEA instructed it to suspend its operations on Feb 18 and to discard all raw ingredients and condiments. It then instructed the firm to thoroughly clean and sanitise its premises and transport vehicles, and to get a pest control operator to inspect its premises.

Food handlers working at the suspended premises were required to re-attend and pass the Basic Food Hygiene Course.

The NEA also issued warnings for lapses, including expired products and a failure to maintain a temperature-monitoring record of freezers and chillers.

When The Straits Times visited Kuisine Catering's premises at Jurong Food Hub yesterday, the door to the unit was shuttered and there was no signboard bearing the company's name to be seen.

Members of the public who encounter food establishments with poor hygiene practices should not patronise such outlets, the agencies added.

Anyone encountering them should call the 24-hour NEA call centre on 1800-225-5632 to provide details for investigation.

Ms Leow Manling, 32, said her relatives and husband suffered ailments like diarrhoea, fever and flu for three to seven days after eating the caterer's food at a Chinese New Year dinner.

Dishes included chicken, sweet- and-sour fish fillet and beancurd with mushrooms.

Although she was not affected, she said: "Some had to see the doctor a few times. An elderly relative was warded for a few days. My mum had to go to the hospital for a drip. It was quite traumatising for everybody."

Ms Leow, a healthcare worker at a hospital, added that she hoped the firm would pay attention to hygiene practices if it started a new business: "The workers have to be very conscious of hygiene practices when handling food."

This article was first published on May 14, 2016.
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