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todayonline - 9 days ago

Legal action to be taken over ‘unbecoming’, ‘egregious’ lapses found in Spize’s River Valley branch

SINGAPORE — The National Environment Agency (NEA) has slammed the food hygiene lapses found at popular eatery Spize as “unbecoming”, as it terminated the licence of its River Valley outlet. On Friday (Dec 7), NEA’s director-general for environmental public health Derek Ho told reporters at a press conference that the authorities were “very angry...very upset with the way things are being done right now”. “It is really unbecoming that our operators are not taking this seriously,” he added, stressing that the authorities took a very “tough stance” on the matter. Spize’s River Valley outlet will have to be shut down, following investigations which revealed an “unusually severe” outbreak of gastroenteritis from “heavily contaminated” food. The NEA, Ministry of Health (MOH) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said in a joint statement on Friday that there was “strong evidence” of severe contamination from poor hygiene and food handling practices. The incident left 47 people hospitalised, and one person dead. In total, 82 cases of food poisoning were reported by people who had consumed food from the restaurant on seven occasions between Nov 6 and 9. Spize River Valley first had its licence suspended on Nov 7, after the NEA, MOH and AVA were first alerted of the cases. The licence termination will only affect its River Valley outlet, with immediate effect. Spize’s other outlets at Rifle Range Road, Bedok, and Siglap will still be allowed to operate, as there was no evidence that the incident at River Valley was linked to other locations. Apart from the termination of its River Valley outlet licence, the authorities will also be taking enforcement action for its “egregious” lapses. Mr Ho told reporters on Friday that the owners of Spize will be taken to court. No further details were given, but Mr Ho told reporters that the authorities will “(ensure) that the appropriate weight of the law is taken … upon them”. Lawyers TODAY contacted said Spize’s owners could face charges for offences under the Environmental Public Health Act, as well as the Sale of Food Act. The penalties for food establishment offences under the Environmental Public Health Act is a maximum fine of either S$5,000 or S$10,000 for first offenders. Repeat offenders will face a jail term. Similar punishments are prescribed under the Sale of Food Act. The NEA, which conducted 88,000 inspections last year, said its past inspections of Spize’s River Valley outlet showed no major hygiene lapses. It last inspected the outlet in October. TODAY has reached out to Spize for its comments. Spize River Valley’s Facebook page was removed from the social networking site on Friday afternoon. JOINT INSPECTIONS REVEALED ‘SEVERE’ LAPSES The agencies conducted joint investigations on two occasions, first on Nov 7 after being notified of the cases, and a week later on Nov 14. Among the food hygiene lapses across both inspections they found were: Not providing soap for hand-washing Food prepared outside the licensed kitchen area Poor personal hygiene and food preparation practices of the food handlers What the agencies flagged from the Nov 14 investigations: Dried salted fish, chicken floss and fish crackers were supposed to be discarded after its licence was suspended, but that was not done Eggs that were meant to be discarded were dispatched to another Spize outlet for use What laboratory investigations revealed: Salmonella Typhimurium, a commonly-occurring bacterium, was found in some of the affected cases, raw and ready-to-eat food, as well as from environmental samples in the premise. In food samples, Salmonella Typhimurium, along with other food-borne pathogens and faecal bacteria, was found in belacan egg fried rice. Salmonella Typhimurium was found in raw chicken samples and kang kong. Faecal bacteria was also detected in a chopping board and knife used for ready-to-eat food. Given that the Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria were found closely related to each other by genetic analysis, this meant that they probably came from the same source, the agencies said on Friday. RECENT SPATE OF FOOD POISONING CASES In the wake of the Spize River Valley incident, Singapore was hit by another three food poisoning cases. On Nov 23, 190 people fell ill after eating food prepared by TungLok Catering for the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s public exhibition at the Singapore Expo. On Nov 27, 131 people — including kindergarten students and teachers — were hit by gastroenteritis, after consuming food prepared by FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer located at Shimei East Kitchen along Bedok North Street 5. High-end hotel Mandarin Orchard Singapore suspended operations at its Grand Ballroom on Wednesday (Dec 5) after 175 people developed symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, and nine were hospitalised. The authorities declined to comment on the other three cases, but would only say that investigations are still ongoing. In 2009, more than 150 people took ill after eating at an Indian rojak stall in Geylang Serai. Two died, and 37 were hospitalised, in what was the worst food poisoning incident here. Sheik Allaudin Mohideen, the stall owner, lost his licence, and was slapped with a S$9,000 fine.

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