SINGAPORE - The catering arm of well-known restaurant group TungLok had its licence at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo suspended on Friday (Nov 23) after 190 people reportedly fell ill from eating food prepared at its premises.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a notice on its website on Friday that it is working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to investigate multiple cases of gastroenteritis traced to the consumption of food from TungLok Catering at 1 Expo Drive.
In response to queries by The Straits Times, the authorities said on Saturday that a total of 190 people had reported symptoms of gastroenteritis as of Friday.
None of them were hospitalised, they added in a joint statement.
Gastroenteritis is an intestinal condition that can be caused by a virus or a bacterial infection, with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhoea.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, president and chief executive of TungLok Group, told ST on Saturday that seven kitchen staff members had prepared more than 1,000 bento boxes for the Singapore Civil Defence Force's (SCDF) public exhibition Lifesavers' Connect on Thursday.
The bento boxes each contained white rice and three dishes, including curry chicken and vegetables, he said.
"We have been running our catering business at the Singapore Expo for at least six years and this is the first such incident," he said. "Our kitchens have all been certified 'A'. Things like this can happen and we hope to get to the root cause of it."
He added that the group is fully prepared to cooperate with the authorities in their investigations.
An SCDF spokesman told ST on Saturday that some of its officers and guests from overseas emergency services, who were at the Singapore Expo on Thursday preparing for the SCDF event on the weekend, had symptoms of diarrhoea or stomach discomfort after consuming catered food.
SCDF said that all the affected personnel and guests have since recovered.
It is currently working closely with the management of Singapore Expo to determine the cause of the matter.
"SCDF takes the well-being of our personnel and guests seriously and will continue to monitor the situation closely," the spokesman said.
NEA said the suspension of TungLok Catering's licence, which is in the interest of public health, will be until further notice.
On Saturday, NEA, MOH and AVA said that they were first notified of the cases on Friday, and conducted a joint inspection of TungLok Catering's premises on the same day.
In the notice, NEA said that all food handlers working at TungLok Catering are required to attend and pass the Basic Food Hygiene Course again, before they can resume work as food handlers.
As part of the investigations, food handlers were sent for stool screening, and food and environmental samples were taken for testing.
In an official statement released on Saturday, TungLok Catering said that all food samples that were kept have been submitted for a lab test as a precautionary measure.
The caterer has ceased kitchen operations at Singapore Expo, while kitchen crew and operations staff managing events at the venue will be replaced during the period that investigations are ongoing.
"The kitchen will no longer serve and prepare food until investigation results are released," the statement said.
"We would like to assure everyone that the rest of the events held at Singapore Expo are not affected as we will be using our main kitchen to cater for the events," it said, adding that its catering division headquarters at Tai Seng Street remains fully functional.
"We regret that this incidence has occurred and wish a speedy recovery for those who were affected," it added.
According to the Singapore Expo website, TungLok is one of its in-house catering service providers.
A Singapore Expo spokesman said that other events held at its premises have not been affected as it works with several other official caterers as well.
"We would like to assure everyone that our partner caterers are certified by NEA and adhere to strict food safety, hygiene and high quality standards demanded by the Singapore authorities," the spokesman said.
"Singapore Expo takes food safety and hygiene seriously and the well-being of our customers is of utmost importance."
In its statement, NEA reminded food operators that they should observe good food and personal hygiene practices at all times.
"NEA will not hesitate to take firm action against anyone found to be in violation of the Environmental Public Health Act," it said.
Those who come across poor hygiene practices in food establishments should call NEA's 24-hour contact centre on 1800-225-5632 with details for follow-up investigations.
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
- Number of people affected: 190 as of Nov 23
- Number of people hospitalised: 0
- What they ate: Bento boxes containing rice and three dishes, such as curry chicken
- How many bento boxes were catered: More than 1,000
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.