Recently, a string of restaurants were hit by a mass food poisoning scandal.
Singapore has to date maintained a reputation for being one of the cleanest countries in the world. And this ‘cleanliness’ extends to the F&B industry, where restaurants are expected to play their part in maintaining a high standard of hygiene.
What are the key lessons and takeaways that restaurants can gain from this? How can other F&B outlets prevent an epidemic? In this article, we take a look at the recent mishaps and address these questions appropriately.
The Food Poisoning Cases
In November, more than 600 people had fallen ill, dozens of which were hospitalized in separate food contamination incidents here in Singapore. In chronological order, these are the cases:
6th Nov: Spize
The first incident saw 81 people fall sick after eating food packed into Bento Boxes prepared by Spize restaurant. One man, a Mr. Fadli Salleh, 38, died in hospital a week later. Salmonella was the identified cause behind the incident. The restaurant was forced to shut down and had its license suspended following the cases.
23rd Nov: TungLok Catering
The catering branch of the TungLok restaurant group was held responsible for 190 people falling sick after consuming food provided at a Singapore Civil Defence Force event. The license for the Max Atria branch was suspended following the reports.
26th Nov: FoodTalks Caterer & Manufacturer
131 Kindgerten 2 pupils and teachers fell ill after eating prepared meals by FoodTalks Caterer & Manufacturer. Operating out of Shimei East Kitchen in Bedok, FoodTalks supplied contaminated packets of fried macaroni to 115 young children and 16 teachers attending a school camp. The company has been under investigation by the NEA following the outbreak.
Dec 6th: Mandarin Orchard
42 people had fallen ill, with 4 of them hospitalised after a food poisoning outbreak at Mandarin Orchard. The incident was said to have occurred during a Sunday lunch banquet at the hotel. Food handlers in the hotel had been temporarily relieved of duties to complete medical tests and receive clearance from authorities.
What Is Being Done Following The Outbreaks? [restrict]
In the span of 3 weeks, Singapore was hit with a massive bout of food poisoning, the likes of which are shocking for a country that is known for their cleanliness and hygiene standards.
The rules and regulations for food caterers are diligent and clear. Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) and Ministry of Health (MOH) have strict guidelines that all food handlers must comply with. The NEA provides guidelines and information on food hygiene and safety for consumers on their website as well.
While the cases could be blamed on lapses in regulations, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health thinks that there is a linking factor. While he admits that he can only speculate, he believes a bug or contaminated source may be the culprit.
Thus, careful investigations are being carried out to identify and tackle the source before any more incidents occur. The news also means that caterers and food handlers will be taking extra precautions in the coming months.
The Malpractices of Spize
For Spize however, several irregularities found during investigations have put them under a sorry spotlight. The one fatality resulting from the incident has made them a unique case amongst the other names in the scandal.
Following investigations, faecal coliforms were detected in samples of their belacan egg fried rice, as well as on chopping boards and knives.
Investigators found that eggs that were supposed to be discarded after the suspension order had been dispatched to another Spize outlet at Temasek Club for use.
Furthermore, their food handlers were found to have poor personal hygiene and preparation practices. Seven of these handlers were also found to be unregistered.
NEA director-general of environmental public health, Derek Ho, stated that it was likely that they (Spize) were trying to cut corners and profiteer. Mr Ho states that the outlet’s operator will be taken to court and held responsible for major negligence.
Looking Forward At Health Standards
This all makes for an educational experience, for those of us who partner with companies that provide food catering and services. Where small business owners are concerned, we are not always privileged enough to work with the top and most reputable names in the business.
Despite this, it is important to be picky. So, what should we prioritize when out-sourcing catering jobs? According to the NEA, these are a few tips to takeaway:
1. Engage Only Licensed Food Caterers
The NEA provides a list of NEA-licensed caterers. The list constitutes their hygiene grades, demerit and merit points, and so forth. The NEA conducts regular health screenings and hygiene checks on their licensees, so a registered caterer will be a good bet. When picking a caterer, check if they are registered with the NEA.
2. Avoid Ordering Raw or Uncooked Foods
A no-brainer it may seem, but certain foods like sushi are sometimes appropriate for events. In these cases, the NEA recommends that that these are delivered chilled at below 5℃. Once received, they should be refrigerated immediately. When ordering raw foods, have someone monitor the delivery process diligently.
3. 4 Hours, No Longer
Food should be consumed within 4 hours of being cooked. Food left at room temperature may start to develop bacterial growth past 4 hours. If you are serving a smaller-sized party with a few guests, then a little give-and-take with time shouldn’t be an issue. However, by NEA standards, anything left out for more than 4 hours is declared unsafe for consumption. Ensure your caterer is punctual with deliveries to avoid wastage.
It is safe to assume, that, given Singapore’s reputation for diligence in matters of health and hygiene, that food poisoning outbreaks are a rare occurrence. This, however, does not draw away from current incidents.
A food poisoning incident is severely detrimental towards a brand’s reputation. It is important to practice good hygiene in all areas when dealing with food.
With the death of Mr Fadli being a tragic incident, we can only hope that those directly involved in food preparation and management will be disciplined in their approach come the future.
Having strict governments and laws are not enough. Those involved in food management must ensure that their staff always abide precisely by standard hygiene regulations. Failing to do which, is a costly mistake.