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Lethal toxin found in Taiwan restaurant chef’s stool samples amid food poisoning case

In a shocking development, stool samples from a chef at a Taiwan restaurant linked to fatal food poisoning tested positive for a lethal toxin. The toxin, also found on the chef’s hands, has raised concerns about contamination in the eatery’s environment.

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TAIPEI: In a development regarding a fatal food poisoning outbreak in Taipei, authorities have discovered traces of a lethal toxin in the stool of the chef at a local eatery.

The outbreak, linked to Malaysian restaurant chain Polam Kopitiam’s Xinyi District branch, has affected a total of 34 individuals, with two fatalities reported and seven still hospitalized as of 7 April, according to Focus Taiwan.

Among the hospitalized, four are in critical condition.

Deputy Health Minister Victor Wang disclosed that bongkrekic acid, the suspected toxin, was detected in faecal samples collected from the chef on 27 March, as per his Facebook post on 6 April.

According to the Singapore Food Agency, ingestion of food contaminated with bongkrekic acid can have life-threatening consequences.

Moreover, an earlier examination of the chef’s hands on 24 March had already detected traces of the toxin, indicating potential contamination within the restaurant’s food preparation process.

Local media have reported the presence of the same toxin in most of the affected diners.

Despite exposure, the chef’s health condition remains normal, with blood and urine tests conducted on 5 April yielding negative results for the toxin, as added by Dr Wang.

Dr Wang hypothesized that while the chef may not have directly consumed contaminated food, he might have ingested trace amounts of the acid, subsequently metabolized by his body.

The possibility of contamination on the chef’s hands from tainted ingredients, leading to the presence of the toxin in the stool sample submitted for testing, was also highlighted by Dr Wang.

Furthermore, environmental samples collected from the chef’s home on 30 March tested negative for Burkholderia gladioli, the bacterium responsible for producing bongkrekic acid.

Dr Wang emphasized the significance of locating the bacterium, describing it as the “key to the incident.”

The outbreak’s primary source has been identified as contaminated flat rice noodles in char kway teow, a popular Malaysian dish.

The fatalities include a 39-year-old man who dined at the restaurant on 22 March and passed away two days later, and a 66-year-old man who visited on 19 March and died on 27 March.

All outlets of Polam Kopitiam have been instructed to close during ongoing investigations, with Dr Wang’s post reaffirming that the outbreak was localized to the Xinyi branch.

In light of the outbreak, Taipei health inspectors discovered concerning sanitation issues at the restaurant, including cockroach droppings, improper knife storage, and a lack of employee health records.

Given the severity of the situation, a special prosecutor has been appointed to oversee the investigation.

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