4 year old boy’s death from Nasi Padang a misadventure

From ‘NEA to take action against stall owner’, 1 Nov 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said it will be taking action against the owner of the nasi padang stall linked to the death of a four-year-old boy. A coroner’s inquiry completed the day before found that Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre’s Kopitiam foodcourt, before dying four days later on Jan 22. The coroner called the tragedy a “misadventure”.

Operations at the stall were suspended for three weeks for the NEA to conduct investigations. After the coroner’s inquiry, netizens wondered if stall owner Siti Abibah Guno would face further action. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said yesterday: “With the coroner’s inquiry now completed, NEA will proceed to prosecute the licensee in court.”

Under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, Madam Siti faces a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge. Investigations had revealed unsafe levels of bacteria at the stall because of two main hygiene lapses – failure to register a food handler as required and failure to protect food in a covered receptacle.

Madam Siti was adamant when she told The Straits Times over the phone on Thursday that she had done nothing wrong as her licence to run a food stall had not been revoked.

According to the NEA’s advisory webpage, ‘3 persons’ were reported to contract ‘food poisoning’ on 18 Jan 2014, and NEA decided to drop the grading down to ‘C, but only effective from 10 April 2014, nearly 3 months after the boy’s death. My Paper reports that other than the deceased, his mother and 2 year old sister were also hit by the salmonella bug, the culprits being curry chicken and tahu goreng. If you check the latest grade for Siti’s stall from NEA’s online database, you would find, to anyone’s befuddlement, that it had since been upgraded to A. But what’s more surprising is that Siti was awarded NO DEMERIT POINTS and listed as NO SUSPENSIONS at all the past year, despite the Jan incident. You might even say it’s an unblemished track record just looking at the details below. No wonder she thinks she has done ‘nothing wrong’.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 7.47.12 AM

 ‘C’ means a score of 50-69%, or barely meeting the passing mark, though the running joke among fans of hawker food is that the lower the score, the tastier the food, with the lowest rating ‘D’ standing for ‘Delicious’. With this Nasi Padang tragedy, you can’t tell that joke anymore without someone groaning at its, well, tastelessness. D is diarrhoea, then death. So, the question remains, how reliable are these ratings anyway? How does the public make an ‘informed choice’ from these grades if there’s a lapse of a few months between a tragedy and the actual ‘demotion’? Or if your online licensing details says there were no suspensions the past year when in fact there was?

It seems that NEA will only issue some kind of strained apology or reassurance when hundreds of people are affected, like the Geylang Serai rojak poisoning back in 2009, which also took 2 lives thanks to an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that also sounds like a Harry Potter spell to induce instant faecal incontinence. Back then, the CEO of NEA himself wrote a letter to Today saying he was ‘deeply saddened’ and that NEA ‘should have moved in firmly’ to tackle the rat infestation problem at the Temporary Market. In this Nasi Padang case, they’ve decided to go on the litigious offensive straight off, before telling us how ‘affected’ they are by the tragic demise, or what measures, other than tweaking gradings up and down, are going to be implemented to ensure that such ‘misadventures’ don’t happen again. Incidentally, the rojak stall was also rated C (Rojak stall given C grade for hygiene in Dec, 8 April 2009, ST).

 Meanwhile, if you think you’re safe if you avoid stalls which display uncovered food, whether it’s economic rice, rojak or Taste of Nanyang Chicken Rice, think again. Even dipping your fishballs in a Sichuan hot pot may not avert a gastrointestinal holocaust. Nor eating Prima Deli chocolate cakes. You should also worry about what your kids eat in their school canteens. If you see a food stall with a ‘C’ rating, don’t think of it as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘average’, but ‘CAUTION’.  Do a quick spotcheck of the premises before ordering, and don’t gobble down the food in case it’s swarming with gross, hidden maggots, as what happened with another case of Nasi Padang last year (also from a stall in Yishun), an image that is enough to turn you into a vegetarian for a week. Watch out for Ecoli in salad though.

As for NEA’s online database, if it’s really a case of wrong information displayed, then you’ve just scored a big ‘F’ in my book.

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