A Food Poisoning Outbreak in Singapore Has Left 1 Dead, 72 Sick in Most-Deadly Case Yet

Here's a secret they didn't tell you in that hawker scene in "Crazy Rich Asians": Singapore has a food safety problem.
November 15, 2018, 11:24am
This River Valley location of Spize, in Singapore, allegedly poisoned people.
Photo by Steel Wool/ Flickr CC License

An outbreak of food poisoning at one of Singapore's most-popular restaurants at left 72 seriously ill last week took an even darker turn Wednesday night when one of the customers who ate an allegedly tainted bento box from the restaurant Spize died while in intensive care.

Fadli Saleh, a father of two, was pronounced dead by doctors at the ICU of Sengkang General Hospital last night. The cause of death is still unknown, but he went into the hospital with a serious case of gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, after eating a bento box prepared by the River Valley location of Spize and delivered to a Diwali celebration.


The food poisoning incident is still under investigation, but the River Valley location, one of two in the city-state, has already had its licensed suspended. The location was found to be in violation of several Singapore health codes, including leaving food uncovered in the fridge and not having any hand soap in the prep area, according to a joint statement released by the National Environment Agency, the Ministry of Health, and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Here's what we know about the case so far: This outbreak can be traced back to a single meal served at a single Diwali celebration. Eighty-eight bento boxes were delivered from the River Valley location to that particular celebration. Everyone who fell ill was at that celebration. A co-owner of Spize told the local press that 221 bento boxes were sent out to six different locations that day, but that only the Diwali celebration Saleh was at was affected by the outbreak.

Singapore has struggled with a series of serious food poisoning issues in recent years, including 200 middle school students who got sick only four months ago. In the same month, two restaurants that shared the same owner had their licenses suspended after at least 29 cases of gastroenteritis were linked to the two eateries.

It's a problem that seems to affect food sellers from all economic backgrounds. In January Summer Palace, a Michelin starred Cantonese restaurant, had its hygiene score dropped from an A to a C after 43 diners fell ill. And back in 2016, an entire hawker center was shut down for two days of deep cleaning after more than 180 instances of food poisoning were traced back to the place.


So why does this keep happening?

Authorities have blamed the country's rapid population growth for the problem. More people are eating out, more eateries are popping up, and more places are cutting corners and getting people sick. But at the same time, food hygiene standards in Singapore go up every year, partly resulting in more and more restaurants have their licenses suspended. The National Environment Agency made 148,500 inspections and took more than 3,200 enforcement actions against food outlets in 2016 alone. That's 2,000 more inspections than it did only three years prior.

But some still think agency isn't doing a good enough job. In a letter to The Straits Times, one reader recalled several times where she had seen food outlets graded A for hygiene indiscreetly handling food with dirty hands and cutting ingredients on dirty tables.

"While I applaud the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) effort to review the grading system, I think the annual inspection and certification of food handlers is insufficient," Jacqueline Lim Cheng Mui wrote.

In River Valley, Spize will be closed until further notice. Yesterday, as government officials visited th location, there were 25 staff members inside cleaning it up. But Spize is also insanely popular in Singapore, where its famous for its prata, a savory type of Indian bread. This specific location, in River Valley, is also its hottest location, so it will probably be packed with hungry diners again in no time. As long as it reopens its doors.