SINGAPORE: Pow Sing Restaurant along Serangoon Garden Way, known for its chicken rice, has been suspended due to links to several cases of gastroenteritis between Jul 4 and 11, the Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA), and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said in a joint press release on Wednesday (Jul 13).
As of Tuesday, 29 reported gastroenteritis cases have been verified and further investigations are ongoing, the authorities said.
MOH, NEA and AVA were first notified of the cases on Jul 4 and had immediately conducted joint inspections of the restaurant’s premises the next day, they said.
Several hygiene lapses, including a failure to maintain temperature records and allowing an unregistered food handler to prepare food, were observed, and the restaurant had been instructed to rectify them immediately, the agencies added.
"There is reason to suspect that there might be a continuing source of infection in the premises," the authorities stated, noting that they were alerted to another four cases on Jul 11, after checks were conducted.
NEA suspended the 33-year-old restaurant starting Wednesday to protect consumers from public health risks, the agencies said. Pow Sing has also been instructed to dispose of all ready-to-eat and thawed food as well as perishable food items, conduct thorough cleaning and sanitising of its premises including equipment, utensils, work surfaces and toilets, and review and rectify the lapses in food preparation processes identified during the joint inspections.
Meanwhile, AVA has collected food samples from the restaurant and is conducting laboratory tests on them, and MOH is screening stool samples from the affected cases and the restaurant's food handlers. Only food handlers who are tested to be free of food poisoning pathogens and have re-attended and passed the Basic Food Hygiene Course will be allowed to resume work, the authorities said, adding that MOH and NEA will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Based on the findings of the joint inspections, NEA will take necessary enforcement actions against the restaurant for hygiene infringements, the authorities said.
"Food operators are also reminded to ensure that all food handlers are registered with the NEA and that they do not engage in any food preparation if they are sick. Food retail outlets are inspected regularly and strict enforcement action will be taken against any errant food retail outlets," they added.
Members of the public can report incidents related to food hygiene by calling the 24-hour NEA Contact Centre at 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255-632).
RESTAURANT CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS: OWNER
When Channel NewsAsia visited Pow Sing on Wednesday at around 8.50pm, the restaurant was shuttered and had notices outside indicating it was "closed for renovations" starting Wednesday.
(Photo: Alicia Tantriady)
"We will resume our business once the renovation finishes. If there are any further delays we will keep you up to date," the restaurant said in the notice.
One of the two founders of the Pow Sing group, Lee Chin Soo, said the renovations of the restaurant had nothing to do with the gastroenteritis incidents and that he only found about the suspension on Tuesday morning.
"It has already been so long; we have never done any sort of renovation. I took this chance and I wanted to change the seats and change the look of the restaurant. I took the chance to clean out everything that looks dirty," he said.
Mr Steven Tan, the other founder of the brand, is said to be overseas.
Mr Lee Chin Soo. (Photo: Alicia Tantriady)
Mr Lee said he wished to find out why the hygiene lapses happened, as it was the first time such a thing had happened at the restaurant in its 30-plus years of operations.
"NEA and MOH have not gotten back to us about the cause, and I really do not have much information but I would like to know more. I will take more steps in future to look at everything more closely," he said.
He added that he would not "run away" and would face his responsibilities.
"The employees here have been with me for a very long time, I also stop by often ... I have been serving chicken rice since I was young," Mr Lee said.
Meanwhile, a manager of Pow Sing Kitchen, also under the Pow Sing group, said it had a separate kitchen from Pow Sing Restaurant and was run by different management, even though they reported to the same bosses. Pow Sing Kitchen, which was still open on Wednesday night, is not affected by the closure, said the manager, who only wanted to be known as "Tommy".
(Photo: Alicia Tantriady)