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Salmonella found in preschoolers’ stool

  Saturday, 21 l 05 l 2011  Source: The Straits Times   
By: Melissa Pang

But exact cause of food poisoning still unknown, says ministry

STOOL samples of at least three children affected by the recent food-poisoning incident at eight preschools have tested positive for the bacteria salmonella. But the Health Ministry stopped short of pinning down the bacteria as the cause of the mass food poisoning, saying investigations are not yet completed. A spokesman said: “MOH takes a very serious view of food poisoning cases and follows a strict investigational protocol to determine the actual causes in each outbreak.”

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is a major cause of food-borne illnesses. It is usually spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Undercooked chicken, beef, eggs or unpasteurized dairy products are the main sources of bacteria but other kinds of food can also be contaminated by the bacteria during preparation or processing.

Dr Chan Si Min, a consultant at the University Children’s Medical Institute, National University Hospital, said there are two main types of salmonella –non-typhi salmonella which most commonly infects the intestines and causes diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever; and the more serious salmonella typhi, which can cause typhoid fever. “Young children are at higher risk of having severe infections... They are more likely to become dehydrated from diarrhea or vomiting,” said Dr Chan. She added that bloodstream and other organ infections are less common but can be more serious in young children or those with other chronic conditions.

Last week, eight preschool centres were hit by food poisoning which saw at least 235 children and 12 teachers affected. Six of them are Pat’s Schoolhouse centres and the other two are The Children’s Place in Kay Siang Road and Learning Vision @ Raffles Place.

Officers from MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) immediately conducted joint inspections at Mum’s Kitchen Catering, which supplied food to all the centres. An NEA spokesman said checks reflected no other lapses at the food preparation areas except for a dirty refrigerator door lining. The company had its licence suspended, and was fined $300 and given four demerit points.

The spokesman added that NEA was aware of MOH’s ongoing investigations and that “it is premature to attribute it to a particular source”. He added: “NEA will consider taking further enforcement action against the caterer under the Sale of Food Act where, if convicted, the offender faces a fine of up to $5,000.” The suspension of the caterer’s licence will be lifted only when it has taken necessary measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again. In an update yesterday, Pat’s Schoolhouse said 36 out of 39 children, who were hospitalised, have been discharged. One of the three who remain in hospital is three-year-old Kayden Goh, who has been warded for nine days now. His father Vincent Goh, 39, who works in sales, said: “He is on a drip all the time, has no appetite, and cannot hold any solid food very well. His diarrhea has dropped to about once a day.”

Mr Darren Toh, operations manager at Mum’s Kitchen Catering, said the food poisoning came as a shock. Just last year, the 15-year-old company had spent $150,000 to upgrade its central kitchen’s facilities and premises. He added: “The management of Mum’s Kitchen truly regrets the incident... The founder of Mum’s Kitchen, Madam Lim Kim Chooi, is having sleepless nights over the incident.” The company has since engaged an external consultant to assess its standard operating procedures for the entire supply chain, and has hired a contractor to sanitise the kitchen in Bedok North.

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