MORE than 100 people came down with food poisoning in the last 10 days or so and public health authorities have singled out chocolate cakes from the Prima Deli chain of bakeries as the likely source of the outbreak.
The company with 39 outlets islandwide has been told to stop making and selling all chocolate cakes and to recall unsold cakes from store counters as well.
Members of the public are also advised to throw away any uneaten chocolate cakes bought from Prima Deli and to see a doctor if they fall ill.
In a joint statement yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said that of the 106 who fell ill, six were hospitalised but have since been discharged.
Six of those who fell ill tested positive for salmonella enteritidis, with symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
MOH was first notified of a food poisoning case on Nov 23 and as more cases surfaced, investigations indicated that the common link was Prima Deli chocolate cakes, purchased as early as Nov 19.
To date, the ministry has been notified of eight such food poisoning cases linked to the chocolate cakes from the company. The last person to fall ill started showing symptoms on Nov 26.
The two agencies then carried out joint inspections of Prima Food's main factory in Keppel Road, which produces the chocolate cakes for all Prima Deli retail outlets.
Test results out yesterday on samples taken from the company suggest salmonella as the likely cause. Employees who handled the food are being screened and investigations into the source of the infection are continuing.
When contacted last night, Ms Pansy Wong, deputy general manager of Prima Food, said that about 50 of the factory's 100 employees were tested last week and that the tests have narrowed it down to one employee who handled butter cream - one of the ingredients used in the chocolate cakes.
Initial findings suggest that this employee may be the carrier of the salmonella bacteria, but he did not not show any symptoms which made the health hazard harder to spot.
The company stopped all production and recalled two types of chocolate cakes - chocolate truffle and hazelnut indulgence - last Friday, as these flavours contained the butter cream handled by the employee.
As a further measure, Prima Food ceased production of all chocolate-related cakes yesterday.
Ms Wong estimated that 300 to 400 cakes in total have been recalled and will be destroyed.
Prima Food's next course of action sees its entire facility in Keppel Road disinfected tomorrow.
Speaking to The Straits Times last night, Ms Wong said: 'This has never happened before. The damage is immense - it is not so much about the money but the brand itself and we care about the consumer more than anything else.
'We did not expect this to happen at all, especially when all the regulations have been followed.'
Screenshot of Prima Deli's website on Tuesday, 4 Dec 2007, 8:10am.
ONE LIKELY SOURCE
Prima Food said that about 50 of the factory's 100 employees were tested last week and they believe that the tests have narrowed it down to one employee who handled butter cream - one of the ingredients used in the chocolate cakes.
» Godiva recalls Christmas gift box chocolates