Eating Spize bento meal hours after preparation may have led to SATS officer's death, coroner


A notice at the entrance to the Spize River Valley outlet on Dec 7, 2018. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: An auxiliary police officer, who died of sepsis and multi-organ failure a week after eating from a bento box, had consumed the food hours after it was prepared.


Mr Mohamad Fadli Mohd Saleh, a 38-year-old employee of ground-handling firm SATS, had eaten the food prepared by Spize restaurant between 2.53pm and 4pm on Nov 6, 2018.


The coroner's court heard on Thursday (Aug 15), the first day of the inquiry, that the food had been prepared at Spize's River Valley outlet between 9.30am and 10.30am that day, and that Mr Fadli ate his portion about five hours later.


READ: Salmonella behind Spize mass food poisoning incident; outlet to be shut

 

A post-mortem conducted initially stated that the cause of death was cardiorespiratory failure. A report later found that he had died of sepsis and multi-organ failure following acute gastroenteritis.


Two government agencies were involved in the investigations on the case: The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Singapore Food Agency, which at the time included the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.


MOH linked seven separate suspected food-borne incidents to Spize between Nov 6 and Nov 9.

A total of 211 people consumed food from Spize. Of this, 73 people fell sick, with 47 people hospitalised including Mr Fadli and 36 testing positive for salmonella.


The other 35 have recovered, said MOH assistant director Pream Raj, who was one of four witnesses who took the stand on Thursday, led by State Counsel Gabriel Choong.


He testified in court that the salmonella outbreak was "unusually severe", despite the bacteria being a common source of such outbreaks.


In general, it is a "self-limiting disease", with an incubation period of between 12 and 36 hours.


However, in this incident, the immediate incubation period was shorter, within just eight hours, and there was a high hospitalisation rate.


 

An investigation ruled out the possibility of there being a virulent strain of pathogens leading to the more clinically severe salmonella outbreak.


Instead, the high hospitalisation rate and short incubation rate was probably due to the increased bacteria loads of contaminated food items, said Mr Raj.


This points to widespread environmental contamination and poor food hygiene practices, he added.


He said that when food is left in a room for an extended period, favourable conditions are provided for bacteria to proliferate. He added that Singapore is warm and that there is moisture in bento boxes.


He said that it was possible this gap between when the food was prepared and consumption of the food may have contributed to death.


 

ACCOUNT OF EVENTS