Taipei Food Poisoning Outbreak In Malaysian Restaurant Linked to Bongkrek Acid

Polam Kopitiam Food Poisoning

In a tragic incident shaking Taipei’s food safety confidence, health officials have identified Bongkrek acid as the likely culprit behind a fatal food poisoning outbreak at the Malaysian restaurant chain Polam Kopitiam.

The outbreak claimed the lives of two individuals and saw 12 others seeking medical attention. It marks a rare and concerning public health event in the city and has now been linked to Bongkrek Acid.

The Outbreak’s Origin

The health crisis unfolded at the Xinyi District branch of Polam Kopitiam, where affected patrons consumed dishes between March 19 and 22. Health Minister Hsueh Jui-yuan disclosed that the deceased and hospitalised individuals had symptoms indicative of acute liver failure, potentially leading to further organ failure.

Deputy Health Minister Victor Wang emphasised the gravity of the situation. He noted the involvement of an expert panel in identifying Bongkrek acid in the patients. The panel, comprising toxicology and infectious disease experts, alongside representatives from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (TFDA), concluded that the same batch of rice noodles consumed by the victims was contaminated.

Understanding Bongkrek Acid

Bongkrek acid, primarily discovered in Indonesia from cases involving the consumption of Tempe bongkrek (a coconut-fermented cake), poses severe risks. Toxicologist Yen Tzung-Hai highlighted the toxin’s capability to damage cellular mitochondria fatally. This subsequently leads to symptoms akin to acute gastroenteritis. Additionally, in dire situations, patients may suffer multiple organ failure with a mortality rate exceeding 40%.

Response and Investigation

Following the incident, the owner of Polam Kopitiam publicly apologised for the outbreak and the resultant panic among consumers. He communicated his regret through his lawyer. Consequently, the restaurant chain is now under scrutiny, with ongoing investigations to determine the precise cause of the contamination. Meanwhile, the TFDA has collected patient specimens and food samples from the restaurant for Bongkrek acid testing.

Legal and Health Implications

The incident has prompted a thorough investigation by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office, considering potential violations of the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation. The tragic outcomes have led to a travel ban on the restaurant owner, the manager, and a chef preparing the implicated dishes.

Public Health Advisory

This outbreak is a stark reminder of the importance of stringent food safety practices. It also highlights the need for regular inspections to safeguard public health. It also underscores the potential dangers of Bongkrek acid, a toxin relatively unknown to many in Taiwan until now. As the community mourns the loss and supports the recovery of those affected, the focus turns to enhancing food safety regulations and public awareness to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

The health community and officials are now calling for increased vigilance among restaurant operators and the public to prioritise food safety, advocating for regular check-ups and adherence to safety protocols to prevent such incidents.

Photo Credit: RTI

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