SINGAPORE: Poor housekeeping practices in schools and lapses in cleaning could have caused recent incidents of gastroenteritis outbreaks at education institutions, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11).
Ms Fu was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Hany Soh (PAP-Marsiling-Yew Tee), who had asked for the findings from investigations conducted into these incidents as well as what action have been taken to manage such incidents and prevent them from recurring.
"For the recent incidents at education institutions, investigations suggest that poor housekeeping practices in schools and lapses in cleaning including within schools’ in-house kitchens could have contributed to the (gastroenteritis) outbreaks," said Fu.
Since the start of 2021, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have conducted joint investigations into 27 incidents of gastroenteritis outbreaks involving more than 800 people, said Ms Fu.
Of these incidents, 18 were associated with education institutions, with 13 in pre-schools alone.
"Despite only being four months into the year, this is reaching the level of 2019, when 18 out of 33 gastroenteritis incidents in education institutions occurred in pre-schools," Ms Fu said.
For one, she noted that "ineffective" cleaning agents such as all-purpose cleaners were used to sanitise areas contaminated with vomit and faeces.
"The use of all-purpose cleaners instead of disinfectants such as diluted household bleach will not be able to effectively clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces," Ms Fu added.
"Chopping boards and knives for raw meat and cooked food were also found kept together instead of separately, thus increasing the risk for cross-contamination."
Government agencies including MOH, the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Early Childhood Development Agency and SFA, are working closely to adopt a "multi-pronged approach" to reduce such incidents in education institutions, said Ms Fu.
"We are particularly concerned about pre-schools, given that young children are more vulnerable," she said.
Measures that are put into place include issuing schools with guidelines and advisories on environmental hygiene and good food safety practices, health screening of staff and students, and briefings on good cleaning practices, personal hygiene and food safety practices for teachers, food handlers and cleaners, said Ms Fu.
In addition, the ministry will also implement the environmental sanitation regime for premises such as pre-schools under the Environmental Public Health Act later this year, as previously announced.
"It is a collective effort to combat (gastroenteritis) outbreaks in our education institutions. Education institutions must play their part to keep their students safe by up-keeping high standards of environmental and personal hygiene, and food safety at all times," said Ms Fu.
"Parents and caregivers should also keep their sick children at home until they recover, so as to facilitate a healthy and safe environment for all students."