SINGAPORE: No signs have been found linking recent food poisoning incidents traced to Mandarin Orchard Hotel, caterers FoodTalks and Tung Lok Millenium and Spize Restaurant at River Valley Road, authorities said on Friday (Dec 14).
The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Agency of Singapore (AVA) said in a joint press release that they had completed investigations into separate gastroenteritis incidents traced to the hotel, FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer and Tung Lok Millennium.
They did not identify any links between the three separate gastroenterities incidents. There were also no links to another food poisoning incident at Spize Restaurant's River Valley outlet.
"Based on the epidemiological findings, clinical presentation and laboratory findings, there are no links identified between the three gastroenteritis incidents, or to the salmonellosis outbreak traced to Spize Restaurant at River Valley Road," said the authorities.
Providing updates on the separate food poisoning incidents, the release said authorities would continue to place the implicated premises "under close surveillance" and work with them to improve their food hygiene practices.
"Our officers will be conducting further inspections to ensure that the implicated premises maintain good hygiene standards, and that the kitchen staff observe proper personal hygiene and food handling practices," added authorities.
Hundreds of people fell ill across the three separate food posioning incidents at Mandarin Orchard Hotel and caterers FoodTalks and Tung Lok Millenium earlier this November and December.
Meanwhile, salmonella bacteria was behind a mass food poisoning incident traced to Spize Restaurant's River Valley outlet that left more than 80 people ill.
EVIDENCE OF COCKROACH INFESTATION, POOR KITCHEN HABITS
In the incident involving FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer at Bedok North, 131 people were reported to have developed gastroenteritis symptoms after they ate food prepared by the caterer during a pre-school day camp.
Following a joint inspection, authorities said they found several hygiene lapses and poor kitchen habits.
These included evidence of a cockroach infestation and preparation of ready-to-eat food items one or two days before consumption.
Other lapses included a lack of proper segregation between raw and ready-to-eat food in the same chiller compartment and use of the same preparation table for raw food and ready-to-eat food items.
"While the exact causative agent could not be identified, the short incubation period from consumption of the food to development of symptoms, and the predominant symptom of vomiting, suggest that the outbreak was likely due to ingestion of toxins produced by bacteria in the food," said authorities.
READ: Children, teachers fall ill after food poisoning incident at camp; caterer under investigation
Meanwhile, a swab taken from a bento packing table during inspections into Tung Lok Millennium tested positive for Bacilus cereus, a type of bacteria that produces toxins that can cause diarrhea or nausea.
Tung Lok, which provides catering services for events at the Singapore Expo, had its operating licence suspended after 190 people fell ill after eating food prepared by the caterer at the Singapore Expo in November.
READ: NEA suspends TungLok Catering at Singapore Expo after 190 people fall ill, including SCDF officers
Other hygiene lapses found by the authorities included no provision of soap for handwashing and the improper use of ice dispensing utensil for ready-to-eat ice.
"As the majority of the cases had recovered by the time MOH was
informed of the outbreak, stool samples were not available for analysis to identify the causative agent," said authorities. "Nonetheless, based on the predominant symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal pain without fever, the pathogen involved is unlikely to be related to any of other three outbreaks reported."
OUTBREAK OF NOROVIRUS AT MANDARIN ORCHARD
Investigations into the cases at the Mandarin Orchard suggest that there was an outbreak of norovirus gastroenteritis at the hotel, said the authorities.
Interviews with hotel staff revealed that there was "improper cleaning of vomitus in the Grand Ballroom, and banquet servers had continued to work while ill", said the release.
"There is strong evidence of severe contamination of the Grand Ballroom with norovirus from poor environmental and personal hygiene practices," it said.
READ: Mandarin Orchard food poisoning: Main ballroom forced to close after 175 fall ill at 4 separate events
Norovirus was detected from the stool samples collected from five cases, three food handlers and 28 service staff, including banquet servers who reported to have continued working while they were ill.
In addition, environmental swabs collected from the Grand Ballroom also detected norovirus from environmental surfaces such as carpet, tables, chairs, unused table cloths, cutlery and drinking glasses from the Grand Ballroom.
In addition, faecal coliforms were detected in the food sample and Bacillus cereus from various environmental swabs, such as those taken from the surfaces of utensils and door handles.
Meanwhile as of Thursday, a total of 315 people were reported to have developed gastroenteritis symptoms after attending five separate events held at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel's Grand Ballroom, said the authorities. The events were held between Dec 1 and Dec 3.
Of the 14 people hospitalised, 13 have since been discharged, they said, adding that the remaining person is in a stable condition.
The suspension of the hotel's banquet kitchen and closure of the Grand Ballroom, which had been implemented following reports of the food poisoning incidents, will continue to be in place until NEA is satisfied that public health risks have been addressed.
Meanwhile, NEA and AVA have stepped up checks on food establishments as the year-end festive season approaches, said the authorities.
"With the increase in volume of consumers dining out and ordering catered food, all food operators must ensure that the food sold is prepared hygienically and safe for consumption," they said. "We will not hesitate to take action against any operators for failing to maintain food safety."