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Taipei restaurant chain closed amid probe into suspected food poisoning deaths

03/27/2024 03:50 PM
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CNA photo March 27, 2024
CNA photo March 27, 2024

Taipei, March 27 (CNA) All branches of the Malaysian vegetarian restaurant Polam Kopitiam have been ordered closed, pending an investigation into the recent deaths of two people and hospitalization of several others who had eaten at one of the outlets in the city, Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) said Wednesday.

Eight people who dined at the restaurant in the Far Eastern Department Store in Xinyi District on March 19, 21 and 22 later fell ill with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea and sought medical attention, according to the Taipei Department of Health.

Of those, a 39-year-old man who ate at the Xinyi restaurant on March 22 died two days later, while a 66-year-old man who ate there on March 19 died on Wednesday morning. Several of those who fell ill were believed to have eaten char kway teow, a stir fried noodle dish, among other servings at the restaurant.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Chiang said Taipei health officials were alerted Sunday by their New Taipei counterparts that it may have been an incidence of food poisoning, after one of the diners who fell ill was treated at a hospital in the nearby city.

The Taipei department immediately sent personnel to the restaurant to collect food samples for testing and to order improvements to the operations there, Chiang said.

On Tuesday, the Taipei City government ordered the closure the restaurant's Xinyi District branch, and it has since extended the order to the chain's other outlets, which are all in the city, Chiang said.

According to Polam Kopitiam's website, the Xinyi restaurant was scheduled to be closed permanently on March 31, while preparations were underway for the opening of a new branch in Taipei's East District.The Malaysian restaurant chain also has outlets in the city's Raohe Night Market and at Taipei Main Station.

In the ongoing probe into the suspected food poisoning incidents, investigators are looking at a New Taipei company that may have recently made food deliveries to the restaurant, according to Chiang.

So far, the food sample testing at the restaurant, carried out by Taipei health authorities, has not found any bacteria commonly associated with food poisoning, he said, adding that prosecutors and central government officials are also involved in the ongoing investigation.

New Developments

Q&A/Four things to know about Bongkrekic acid

March 29: Owner of restaurant chain at center of food poisoning outbreak apologizes

March 29: Bongkrekic acid found in 8 food poisoning cases; none in food samples

March 28: Tests on deceased in Taipei food poisoning case finds Bongkrekic acid

Food and Drug Administration Director-General Wu Shou-mei (center) speaks at a weekly news conference in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo March 27, 2024
Food and Drug Administration Director-General Wu Shou-mei (center) speaks at a weekly news conference in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo March 27, 2024

Meanwhile, Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) Director-General Wu Shou-mei (吳秀梅) said Wednesday that Taipei City and TFDA officials had visited the restaurant the previous night to take additional samples of food products that usually have high risk of contamination.

The tests of the samples, which include cabbage, bean sprouts, rice noodles, brown beech mushrooms, pandan leaves and soy sauce, will likely take at least two weeks to complete, since the procedure involves cultivating microbial cultures, she told reporters.

Although the restaurant passed a food safety inspection in 2022, Taipei health inspectors who visited following the suspected poisonings found several problems, including cockroach droppings on the premises, knives stored on the counter next to the sink, and a failure to provide employee health records, Wu said.

She declined to comment on possible causes of the recent suspected food poisoning, saying that an accurate determination could only be made after analyzing the test results.

Some experts have been speculating that the suspected food poisonings may have been linked to bongkrekic acid contamination, which can occur in fermented coconut or corn products, improperly stored rice products, and improperly soaked black fungus.

According to a source with knowledge of the matter, personnel from the Taipei District Prosecutors Office joined health officials Tuesday to collect food samples at the restaurant, and prosecutors had summoned four people for questioning, including the restaurant's owner and the cook at the Xinyi branch.

(By Tseng Yi-ning, Chen Yi-hsuan, Frances Huang and Matthew Mazzetta)



March 28: 5 people remain in critical condition due to food poisoning in Taipei

March 28: Bongkrek acid suspected in deadly Taipei food poisoning outbreak

March 27: Two die, 4 critically ill in suspected Taipei food poisoning outbreak

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● Suspected food poisoning outbreak in Taipei restaurant leaves one dead

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