Customer’s death from carbamate poisoning haunts Batu Gajah stall operator

Jamaludin Saaid looks at his empty stall after he was ordered to stop operating due to the carbamate poisoning incident. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Jamaludin Saaid looks at his empty stall after he was ordered to stop operating due to the carbamate poisoning incident. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

BATU GAJAH, March 26 — The death of Hawa Buyong from carbamate (pesticide) poisoning hangs heavy on the mind of Jamaludin Saaid, 63, the operator of a food stall in Seputeh where Hawa is believed to have had her last meal.

He said he was distraught after learning of her death on Wednesday night. She had slipped into a coma from eating pesticide-contaminated food from his stall on March 5.

“She was a regular customer at our stall for over three years and became my wife’s close friend. It is heartbreaking and I can only express my deepest condolences and prayers to her family,” he said.

Hawa, 47, succumbed to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a brain injury that occurs due to oxygen deficiency caused by carbamate poisoning.

Another 32 victims, who also ate at the same stall, were hospitalised but later recovered.

“We only wanted to provide good food to our customers and earn a living. We never meant any harm to anyone,” Jamaludin said yesterday.

Once bustling with customers, Jamaludin was ordered to close shop until he fulfils the Health Ministry’s food safety and quality standards.

Jamaludin, however, said he would not reopen the stall although it was his only source of income. He had been operating for 26 years but he was clueless how his food became contaminated.

“I am the first one to taste my own food. If I had accidentally exposed the food to carbamate during the cooking process, I would have been the first person to get sick,” he said.

Jamaludin said nasi lemak, kuey teow goreng and bihun goreng were cooked at the stall while traditional Malay desserts were prepared at home.

He said he did not keep pesticides at home as he had no use for it.

The state Chemistry Department had taken samples from the stall and found carbamate in the sambal used for nasi lemak, fried kuey teow, kuih bom and cucur badak.

A subsequent test found traces of the chemical on a knife, chopping board, laddle and food tray.

Jamaluddin also ruled out the possibility of people breaking into his stall and poisoning the food as there were no signs of forced entry.

“There are no chemical processing companies near my stall either. Honestly, I am baffled. It is a sad, tragic mystery,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hawa’s family urged the authorities to continue its investigation into the case.

“We want justice. We deserve to know what happened to her and how the contamination took place,” said Hawa’s younger sister Arison Buyong, 37.

“We want the probe to continue until we find out what how the carbamate came in contact with the food. It is only fair to the family (and the victims).”

On Thursday, Batu Gajah police chief ACP Mohd Nasry Mohd Omar said police did not find any criminal elements in Hawa’s death and had classified the incident as “sudden death”.

No further investigation would be conducted, he said.

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