130 ill in Kuisine Catering food poisoning probe: It had earned A grade for many years

Yuen Sin and Pang Xue Qiang
The Straits Times
Saturday, Feb 20, 2016

More people have reported falling sick after eating food from a caterer being investigated for a suspected case of mass food poisoning.

Close to a hundred more people said they became unwell after consuming food from Kuisine Catering last weekend, bringing the total number affected to about 130.

A 25-year-old student, who wanted to be known only as Ms Leow, told The Straits Times that more than 20 of her relatives and friends fell ill after a Chinese New Year gathering at her Choa Chu Kang home last Saturday. Two had to be admitted to hospital to be put on a drip.

She had ordered food for more than 30 people from Kuisine Catering, which was suspended by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported on Thursday that 33 people fell ill after a birthday party last Saturday. Yesterday, it said another 70 or so people at three different parties also fell sick after eating food from Kuisine last weekend.

Said Ms Leow: "At around 4am in the morning, my mother told me that she was feeling nauseous. We started receiving more calls the next afternoon from relatives and realised that it was probably food poisoning from the buffet spread that we ordered."

She said the food, including cereal prawns, chicken curry and beancurd, was scheduled to be delivered by 6.30pm, but arrived an hour late and was cold by then. Kuisine did not place a time stamp on the food or provide any "consume by" signs.

This flouts NEA guidelines for caterers, which require catered food to carry a time stamp, with the displayed "consume by" time no later than four hours after the food is cooked or made ready to eat.

"We suspect that they had taken too many orders over the festive period and didn't have enough manpower, so they prepared the food too early. By the time the food arrived, it had probably turned bad," said Ms Leow, who has not fully recovered from food poisoning.

In the guidelines, NEA warns caterers not to take orders beyond their capacity to cope, as it could result in lapses and compromise food safety.

Kuisine's website had numerous promotions for Chinese New Year, and Lianhe Wanbao reported that it was fully booked last Saturday. Kuisine's shutters were down when The Straits Times visited its office at Jurong Food Hub yesterday.

A spokesman for Kuisine Catering, set up as a company in 2011, said it had earned an A grade from the NEA "for many years".

Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology programme, said food poisoning is usually caused by harmful bacteria.

"Such harmful bacteria grow and reproduce rapidly at temperatures of about 30 deg C, which means that Singapore's tropical climate is perfect and conducive for bacteria growth. The best advice is to eat your food quickly after it has been cooked and to avoid leaving it out at room temperature for extended periods of time."

The NEA, Ministry of Health and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority are investigating the case.

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