Authorities in Singapore are investigating almost 50 gastroenteritis cases and more than 20 hospitalizations linked to eating at one outlet of the Spize Restaurant chain.

The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) are looking into illnesses traced to consumption of food prepared at Spize Restaurant, 409 River Valley Road.

A total of 49 cases were verified to be affected and 21 people have been hospitalized. It is not yet known which food item or pathogen is responsible for the outbreak.

MOH, NEA and AVA were notified of the cases on Nov. 7, and jointly inspected the restaurant’s premises on the same day.

Several hygiene lapses were observed, including leaving ready-to-eat food uncovered in a chiller, not providing soap for handwashing as the soap dispenser was faulty, and storing knives for preparing ready-to eat food in a gap between the food preparation tables.

NEA suspended the license of the restaurant from Nov. 9 and required it to dispose of all RTE, thawed and perishable food items, conduct thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the premises including equipment, utensils, work surfaces and toilets, and rectify the lapses in food preparation identified during the joint inspection.

Suspension will be in place until NEA is satisfied public health risks have been addressed. Spize Bedok, Rifle Range and Siglap outlets are not affected.

AVA has taken food and environmental samples from the restaurant as part of the investigation and laboratory tests are ongoing. MOH has collected stool samples from some of the sick customers and referred the restaurant’s food handlers for stool screening.

“Licensed food operators have the responsibility to put in place systems and processes to ensure high hygiene standards are observed by their food handlers at all times. Food operators are also reminded to ensure that all food handlers are registered with the NEA and that they do not engage in any food preparation if they are sick. Food retail outlets are inspected regularly and strict enforcement action will be taken against any errant food retail outlets,” the three agencies said in a statement.

In a statement on their Facebook page, Spize said it supplied 88 Bento Sets on Nov. 6 to a location that it did not name. Bento is a single-portion meal usually with rice or noodles, fish or meat and vegetables.

“To our knowledge 15 of them who consumed our Bento Sets fell ill. We are currently working with MOH and NEA to identify the exact cause of the incident. We are committed to take any necessary action required. We would also like to wish a speedy recovery to those that have been affected,” according to the company.

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