Death of Sats officer who consumed contaminated Spize bento box an unfortunate misadventure: State Coroner

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Spize’s River Valley outlet. (PHOTO: Google maps screencap)

SINGAPORE — The death of a Sats officer who consumed contaminated food from the restaurant Spize was ruled an unfortunate misadventure by the Coroner’s Court on Friday (23 August).

Mohamad Fadli Mohd Saleh, 38, died eight days after consuming a bento box packed by Spize’s River Valley outlet on 6 November last year during a company event.

Fadli, an auxiliary officer attached to security company Brink’s Singapore, was one of 82 people who fell ill after consuming food from Spize.

State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam said, “The joint investigations by the agencies uncovered several alarming lapses in the food handling and food preparation methods which directly contributed to the outbreak of acute gastroenteritis.”

According to the coroner’s findings, 88 bento sets were prepared at the Spize restaurant outlet at 409 River Valley Road on 6 November between 9.30am and 10.30am.

The bento boxes were collected at 11.10am and delivered to the Brink’s Kaki Bukit office and Tai Seng office. At the Kaki Bukit office, 57 sets were collected by the company staff at 11.33am.

The staff signed off an invoice which stated that the food had to be consumed within one hour of delivery to guarantee freshness. Spize would not be held liable for the health of guests who consumed the food beyond the recommended timing, according to the invoice.

The food was placed at a table in an air-conditioned room. Fadli arrived in the office at 2.53pm and his colleague collected the bento box which Fadli later ate. Investigations did not reveal what time Fadli ate the food.

When he returned home later that day, Fadly experienced pain in the stomach and had bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting throughout the night. He visited the Raffles Medical Clinic branch near his house with his wife the next morning.

Fadli was found to have developed a fever of 39.9 degrees Celsius. He was diagnosed with gastroenteritis and prescribed medication. The general practitioner told Fadli to go to the emergency room if his condition were to worsen.

Despite medication, Fadli’s condition did not improve. On 8 November, Fadli asked his wife to contact his other family members. An ambulance was called and Fadli was conveyed to Seng Kang General Hospital.

At the hospital, Fadli’s stool samples tested positive for salmonella. His condition deteriorated and he suffered a cardiac arrest on 14 November. He was pronounced dead at 7.19pm.

Joint investigations by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) on 7 and 14 November found that the premises of the Spize Restaurant outlet was found to contain strains of salmonella in the bento sets. The strains were also found on raw food items and surfaces such as the door handle leading to the cold room and the cold room rack at the outlet.

“This was suggestive of cross-contamination with raw meat, borne by the food handlers,” said SC Ponnampalam.

“There was also faecal matter detected in the Ready-to-Eat food (belacan egg fried rice) and in the kitchen tools like the chopping board and knife used in the chicken rice preparation which points to poor hygiene practices, either in the handling of unclean raw meat, or in poor personal hygiene.”

MOH officers noted that there was no soap for hand-washing at the handwashing basin in the kitchen.

Investigations also revealed that seven of the 34 food handlers had not been licensed with NEA and had not attended the basic food hygiene course.

There were also unlicensed premises on level two of the outlet, which were used for the preparation of raw vegetables.

An MOH report noted that the outbreak was unusually severe due to the short incubation period and high number of hospitalised cases involving relatively young people.

On 9 November 2018, NEA officers visited Spize Restaurant to serve a suspension order to Spize and the River Valley outlet and its food handlers.

During investigations, Spize was ordered by NEA to discard dried foods such as dried salted fish, chicken floss, fish crackers and eggs. However, the food items continued to be stored at level two of the outlet or sent to a different outlet.

The outlet’s food establishment licenses were cancelled on 6 December.

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