Singapore has seen a disturbing rise in food poisoning cases due to serious lapses in health and safety practices. Gastroenteritis, caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses present in food or water, causes nausea, vomiting, severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea and fever. Prevention — through the means of proper hygiene and handling of food and food-related items — is the best defence against food-borne illnesses.
In the months of November and December of last year, one person was killed and around 600 people in total were affected by food poisoning outbreaks in Mandarin Orchard Singapore Hotel, FoodTalks Caterer and Manufacturer, TungLok Catering at Singapore Expo, and Spize Restaurant in River Valley Road.
In March, a baby fell ill with gastroenteritis after her mother borrowed a pair of food scissors from a stall owner at Tampines Street and used the scissors to cut the food into small pieces for her one-year-old child. The stall owner normally used the scissors for cutting raw food, which contained bacteria that caused the baby to have food poisoning. The baby was hospitalised and released a week later.
At the beginning of April, 22 students at the National University of Singapore’s Ridge View Residential College contracted gastroenteritis. Investigations at the canteen are still ongoing.
Even more recently, on April 17 and 18, there was a mass outbreak of vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhoea that affected 230 students at Zhenghua Primary School in Bukit Panjang. While 90 per cent of students have recovered and have gone back to school, others are still affected.
After major investigations by the Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), lapses in food hygiene and safety were found to be the causes of the food poisoning cases.
One of the worst incidents was the Spize Restaurant gastroenteritis outbreak, which affected more than 80 and killed Sats officer Fadli Salleh. Six types of pathogens were identified as the culprits, with salmonella leading the charge. The pathogens came from unhygienic food handling practices and a disregard for food safety, such as leaving food uncovered in the refrigerator, storing knives in a space between food preparation counters and not providing hand-washing soap.
When it comes to food-related illnesses, prevention is the key. It is imperative that we make proper food hygiene and safety the highest priority.
Here’s a handy little guide of four C’s to remember and follow strictly: clean, classify, cook and chill.
CLEAN surfaces and hands with soap often: before and after handling food, after using the bathroom; after changing a diaper; after handling pets; after tending to someone ill; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after handling uncooked eggs or raw meat, poultry, or fish and their juices.
Wash thoroughly with hot, soapy water all surfaces that come into contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, and eggs before moving on to the next step in food preparation. Wash dishcloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine or with hot, soapy water.
CLASSIFY cutting boards and preparation utensils to specific uses. Separate ones for meat, vegetables, etc. Do not cross-contaminate. It’s also extremely important to remember not to use the same platters and utensils for raw and cooked food.
COOK food to proper temperatures. Not cooking food at the right temperatures or for the right amount of time is a major cause of food-related diseases.
CHILL and refrigerate food promptly. Do not leave food out in room temperature for long: pack food into sealed containers and store them in the refrigerator. Never store food uncovered in the chiller or refrigerator.
As bacteria can be found literally everywhere, cleanliness and proper hygiene is the most important safeguard that we have in the prevention of food-borne illnesses. /TISG