YET another food poisoning incident involving school hostels has happened in Perak.
This time, 70 students from SM Poi Lam (Suwa) have been taken ill after having dinner served by the school’s hostel kitchen at 6pm last Thursday.
State Health Department director Datuk Dr Juita Ghazalie said the students had stomach aches, diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and dizziness an hour after.
The mother of one of the students lodged a report at the district’s Health Office the next morning.
“Sixty-nine of the students have received treatment at five private clinics, while one of them was admitted to a private hospital here,” she said in a statement.
The 14-year-old male student, who sought treatment from the Perak Chinese Community Hospital, has been discharged on Friday, she said.
Dr Juita said the students, aged 13 to 18, are suspected to have suffered food poisoning from an egg curry dish that was contaminated with salmonella bacteria.
“Preparation for the egg curry seemed fine, as the curry was cooked at 4pm and served at 6pm – that is within four hours of the acceptable time of serving.
“We have taken 17 clinical specimens from the food and food operator as well as environmental swabs to determine how the food was contaminated,” she said, adding that tests are still ongoing and will be known within the next two to four days.
Dr Juita said preliminary investigations found that four of the six workers had not received anti-typhoid injections.
“Another four have never attended courses in handling food properly.
“We also found that the kitchen chiller was set at 13°C instead of the standard temperature of 4°C.
“They had kept food ingredients together with washing detergents in the food storage cabinet as well,” she said.
Dr Juita added that the food operator, who has been supplying food to hostel students for more than a year, has been slapped with a RM1,000 fine under Regulation 34 of the Food Act.
“The kitchen has been instructed to cease operations temporarily under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 at 7pm Friday,” she said.
At a separate press conference, state Health Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said there will be no more warnings or prior notice.
In a proactive move to prevent cases of food poisoning at schools, institutions of higher learning and hostels, he said the Perak Health Department will do away with scheduled visits and will only be conducting spot checks.
Noting that there had been a spike in food poisoning cases in the state especially at such establishments, Dr Mah said the department was determined to take stricter measures.
“Although these places come under the purview of the Education Ministry and Higher Education Ministry, we will still play our role in making sure food handlers follow standard operating procedures and get themselves vaccinated.
“We will also continue to monitor food storage facilities and food preparation facilities that do not meet standards.
“All information gathered by our health officers will then be handed over to the respective ministries,” he told reporters after chairing a state-level meeting on the control and prevention of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) in Ipoh on Thursday.
On Aug 21, a total of 52 students from the Gopeng Matriculation College suffered food poisoning after eating chicken at the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was ordered to close while its operator was slapped with a RM1,000 fine.
Hardly a week before that, 53 students at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) became sick after having meals at the dining hall.
The two incidences are among 10 food poisoning cases reported in the state in August alone.
In April, 63 people from SM Sains Tapah in Perak came down with food poisoning after they had supper consisting of roti jala and chicken curry at the school’s hostel.
Dr Juita, who was also present at the press conference, said judging by the frequency of food poisoning cases, it would seem that food operators were unperturbed by orders of temporary closure.
“It looks like now we have to fine them and maybe even take them to court in order to get the message across,” she said.
The department has also reported a 62.3% drop in dengue cases.
As at Aug 20, there were 2,619 cases including eight deaths reported as compared to 6,920 cases and 22 deaths in the same period last year.
On JE, Dr Mah said there were five confirmed cases in the state up until Aug 21, one case more compared to last year.
“The cases, one in the Kerian district and four in Kuala Kangsar, are considered sporadic.
“There is nothing to be worried about. We are seeing an increase in cases merely because of better accuracy in diagnosis,” he said.
Dr Mah added that in all five cases, the virus had not originated from pig farms in nearby areas as blood samples taken from pigs returned negative.
“We suspect the virus had originated from wild animals such as wild boars, migratory birds and monkeys,” he said.
JE is a viral brain infection spread to humans through bites by mosquitoes of the Culex species infected with the virus.