Tainted nasi padang: Stall's contract terminated

SINGAPORE - A nasi padang stall implicated in the fatal food poisoning of a toddler has been booted out of business.

The way the authorities grade errant stalls for cleanliness is also being changed. The National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times that stalls which are downgraded for food poisoning will have to keep that grade for at least a year.

Last month, a coroner's inquiry found that poor hygiene practices at the stall at Northpoint Shopping Centre's Kopitiam foodcourt were likely to have led to the death of four-year-old Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam in January.

The boy had eaten food such as curry chicken, which his mother bought from there.

Kopitiam corporate communications manager Vincent Cheong said yesterday that on Nov 7, it terminated its licence agreement with the stall owner, Madam Siti Abibah Guno. He said earlier that his company was doing so "as a safety precaution".

After the coroner's findings were released, some members of the public had raised questions about why the stall had an A rating for cleanliness.

In April, the NEA had downgraded Madam Siti's stall from A to C in the wake of the Health Ministry's investigation.

In July, the stall was given an A grade after it was re-assessed.

But after queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said it reviewed the process and will no longer allow such stalls to be upgraded after such a short period.

"For future cases, food outlets implicated in food poisoning incidents will not be considered for upgrading for at least a year," the spokesman said.

They will be upgraded only if inspections show that "they have met the requisite standards and that all investigations and regulatory proceedings to address hygiene lapses have been completed", she added.

The coroner's inquiry found that Shayne had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall on Jan 18, four days before his death.

Investigations showed that Madam Siti's stall had unsafe levels of bacteria because of two main lapses - failure to register a food handler, and not protecting food in a covered receptacle.

"It is good for NEA to periodically revisit its policy and how it does its grading," said Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment.

"Also, it has to ensure that its officers are consistent in their audit of hawker stalls, and when a mistake is made, it should not be afraid to correct it in the interest of public safety."

Ms Lee added that she will raise questions about the case when Parliament next sits.

The NEA said it will be taking Madam Siti to court under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, which carries a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge.

No court date has been set and the NEA has not indicated if Madam Siti will have her food retail licence revoked or suspended - a measure that former patrons, such as technical support engineer Mr Peh, think is deserving.

The 38-year-old, who declined to give his full name, said: "If they caused a death, they should be punished more severely. They should be suspended and fined."


This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014.
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