SINGAPORE: Food establishment Spize and a related company were fined S$32,000 on Thursday (Dec 3) over a mass food poisoning incident in 2018.
Sixty-three people fell ill after eating food catered by Spize for a company event, and 45 of them were hospitalised. An auxiliary police officer who also consumed the food died eight days later.
The two companies, Spize and Spize Events, were convicted of 14 offences, said the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in a media release.
The offences include possession of food unfit for human consumption, which has a maximum prescribed penalty of S$10,000, to charges ranging from hiring unregistered food handlers to food safety violations.
The AGC sought a total fine of at least S$30,000.
On Nov 6, 2018, 88 bento sets were prepared by Spize between 9.30am and 10.30am for an order by security firm Brink's. The food was delivered between 11am and noon to Brink's premises at Kaki Bukit and Tai Seng.
An invoice issued to the firm stated that the food should be consumed within an hour of delivery, court documents said.
Ninety-six people ate the food, including family members of Brink's employees after they brought the bento sets home. A total of 63 people developed gastroenteritis symptoms and 45 were hospitalised.
Tests found that most of those who were hospitalised had consumed food contaminated with salmonella.
READ: Alarming lapses at Spize caused acute food poisoning outbreak that killed father of two: Coroner
Mr Mohamad Fadli Mohd Saleh, 38, an auxiliary police officer attached to Brink's, ate the food between 2.53pm and 4pm at the Kaki Bukit premises before returning home.
That night, he suffered multiple spells of diarrhoea and vomiting. He went to a clinic the next morning and was prescribed medication.
On Nov 8, his condition deteriorated and he became unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance and admitted to the intensive care unit, but died less than a week later from sepsis and multi-organ failure following acute gastroenteritis.
The operating licences of Spize and Spize Events were cancelled on Dec 6 and both firms were charged in court for serious violations of the Environmental Public Health Act.
"However, there was insufficient evidence to link Mr Mohamad Fadli’s death to the negligence of any particular individual. As a result, no charges were preferred against any individual," said the authorities.
FAECAL MATTER FOUND ON CHOPPING BOARD, KNIFE
During inspections of Spize's kitchen, faecal coliforms were detected in samples of belacan egg fried rice, raw chicken, kang kong, as well as on a chopping board and knife used for ready-to-eat food.
Salmonella bacteria were found on the door handle and rack of a cold room and kitchen surfaces, said court documents.
Investigations found that there was also no hand soap at the wash basin and condiments were left uncovered in the fridge.
Knives were also "carelessly" slotted into gaps between food preparation tables, said the prosecutor.
Some of the food handlers were not registered with the National Environment Agency and had not attended the mandatory Basic Food Hygiene Course.
"The food hygiene lapses were easily preventable," said the prosecutor.
"This reveals not only the accused’s company’s blatant disregard of the law, but also its sheer lack of concern for the safety of its customers."
SFA said it conducts regular inspections of food outlets and will take action against those who fail to comply with food safety regulations.
"Food operators play a critical role in upholding public health and safety, and must ensure that food safety regulations are adhered to at all times. This includes having the necessary infrastructure and trained expertise to ensure safe food preparation, handling and sale of food," it said.