SINGAPORE: "Alarming lapses" in food hygiene at Spize restaurant caused an acute outbreak of food poisoning that killed a father of two and landed 46 others in hospital, the state coroner said in her case findings on Friday (Aug 23).
Mohamad Fadli Mohd Saleh, a 38-year-old employee of ground-handling firm SATS, had died in hospital last year of sepsis and multi-organ failure following acute gastroenteritis.
Mr Fadli had eaten a bento set catered from Spize restaurant by his company for a Deepavali celebration on Nov 6, 2018, and began feeling sick that night.
He developed a fever of 39.9 degrees Celsius, along with diarrhoea, nausea and body aches, and saw a doctor the next day, but his condition worsened and he died after a heart attack a week later on Nov 14.
Mr Fadli was one of 47 people hospitalised, and among 36 who had tested positive for salmonella.
In all, 73 out of 211 people who ate the food from Spize fell ill.
State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam on Friday described the many lapses in food hygiene uncovered in investigations by the Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
"The joint investigations by the agencies uncovered several alarming lapses in the food handling and food preparation methods which directly contributed to the outbreak of acute gastroenteritis," said the coroner.
SALMONELLA BACTERIA DETECTED
Strains of salmonella were found on the ready-to-eat bento sets at Spize's River Valley Road outlet, where the food was prepared.
The bacteria was also found on raw food items and commonly touched surfaces such as a door handle leading to a cold room and the cold room rack at the restaurant.
"This was suggestive of cross-contamination with raw meat, borne by the food handlers," said the coroner.
"There was also faecal matter detected in the ready-to-eat food (belacan egg fried rice) and on the kitchen tools like the chopping board and knife used in the chicken rice preparation which points to poor hygiene practices, either in the handling of unclean raw meat, or in poor personal hygiene."
FOOD HANDLERS NOT REGISTERED
Seven of the 34 food handlers were not registered with NEA and had not attended the basic food hygiene course.
There was no soap provided at the restaurant's basin, so it was likely that the food handlers did not wash their hands with soap before handling cooked ingredients, preparing meals, after handling raw ingredients, or after touching other parts of the kitchen.
This could have led to cross-contamination of salmonella bacteria between the raw ingredients and cooked food, the court heard.
A chopping board and knife were likely to have been used to prepare both raw and cooked food, said SFA in its report.
This is another poor hygiene practice, and separate sets of kitchen equipment should be used for ready-to-eat food and for raw food.
FOOD LEFT UNCOVERED, RAW CHICKEN NOT THAWED PROPERLY
Chilli, fried shallots, spring onion and chilli paste were left uncovered in two different chiller drawers, while cooked rice was left at room temperature for at least three hours before being used for fried rice.
The restaurant also did not thaw frozen cubed chicken properly, and did not follow NEA's order during its investigations to discard dried foods including salted fish and eggs and instead sent some to a different outlet.
Spize Restaurant lost its River Valley Road outlet licence in December.
"Based on the evidence uncovered, there is no basis to suspect foul play," said the coroner. "I find Mr Fadli's demise to be an unfortunate misadventure, albeit from a natural cause."
When approached by media after the hearing, family members declined comment.