The catering arm of Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways has been invited to bid for a contract to serve the city’s largest Covid-19 quarantine centre after a food scandal led to the firing of the previous vendor, the Post has learned. A source familiar with the situation said authorities had asked Cathay Pacific Catering Services (HK) to come up with financial and logistics proposals for operations at the Penny’s Bay camp on Lantau Island. The plan was aimed at making use of the in-flight catering company’s idle capacity and raising food quality at the facility after 45 people there fell ill from consuming contaminated food, another source said. The source said the government was working around existing tender procedures to strike a deal with Cathay’s catering services. Caterer for Hong Kong quarantine camp could face prosecution Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee acknowledged for the first time on Sunday that the illnesses at Penny’s Bay were caused by food poisoning, and confirmed that the government was looking for a new vendor. However, she did not elaborate on who that might be, or on any special arrangements for choosing the new contractor. “Cathay Pacific Catering Services yesterday received an invitation to provide catering services for the quarantine centre at Penny’s Bay,” a spokeswoman said on Friday. “The company has already submitted a bid.” “The safety and quality of our meals are of paramount importance and we always strive to meet the demands of customers,” she said. The company is one of the world’s largest flight kitchens, supplying about 30 million meals to more than 50 global airlines in 2019. About a week ago, with the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp packed with about 3,000 people, or near maximum capacity, residents claimed they had suffered from food poisoning after being served by vendor Danny Catering Service. Authorities said 45 people fell ill, with five sent to hospital. They have since been discharged. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department told the Post on Thursday that it had started legal proceedings and issued verbal warnings against the vendor for keeping an unclean kitchen and storing food at inappropriate temperatures. The department also said it was considering prosecution over hygiene levels in ready-to-eat food after a sample from a penne dish from the caterer was found with bacteria known to cause food poisoning. Danny Catering Service was subsequently fired. As an interim measure, contractor Delicious Chef King Catering served the camp through Wednesday, followed by Hong Kong Gourmet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of soy drink producer Vitasoy International Holdings. Vitasoy said it had put in place a stringent system for production and delivery services to prevent any cross-contamination. Hong Kong facing one untraceable Covid-19 infection, ending 7-day streak of 0 cases The Department of Health had invited various service providers to submit quotations to procure relevant services in accordance with government rules and regulations, a spokesman said. “[We] will continue to closely monitor the service quality of the outsourced contractor and will solemnly follow up on complaints received,” the spokesman added. Cathay’s potential contract may not be lucrative, however, as a recent easing of quarantine rules meant there were fewer residents brought into such camps. As of Saturday, there were only 157 people under compulsory quarantine. Health authorities had stopped short of calling the Penny’s Bay incident a case of food poisoning, but said Danny had voluntarily dumped 2,500 meal boxes. Those who fell ill were among more than 2,000 people evacuated from their homes over variant Covid-19 cases found in their housing blocks. Among them was a woman with a family of six, who only gave her name as Renie. She said her group was split into two different quarantine rooms at the Penny’s Bay camp on May 5. She stayed with her 61-year-old mother and her 11-year-old son, while her two younger sons – aged 4 and 5 – stayed with her husband in a different room. She said the lunchbox meals often came to their doorstep cold with an odd sour, plastic-like smell, but she and her husband had to eat what was served because they did not pack enough food for 21 days. “We’re not expecting hotel-standard food, but it’s unacceptable that government contractors would distribute food that made people sick,” Renie said, adding she and her husband suffered from stomachaches and diarrhoea after eating the catered meals for five days straight. “I think there were more people who fell sick [than was reported],” Renie said, citing what others had shared in her online chat group. Her elderly mother and sons were not fond of the food and mostly ate instant noodles and snacks instead. How Hong Kong’s former cabin crew members are taking off in new jobs Conceding that the food quality, internet connectivity, and communication among authorities and those in quarantine left much to be desired, health minister Chan on Sunday promised to take steps to improve the situation. Ray Chui Man-wai, chairman of the Institute of Dining Art, estimated that meals prepared by food factories normally cost HK$20 to HK$30 each, but quality can be compromised if a vendor that wins a tender on a lowest bid has to further cut production costs. “Perhaps the government just chose the lowest bidder given the urgency,” Chui said, referring to Danny’s case. With school and office canteens shut amid the pandemic, food factories had been out of revenue and understaffed, so caterers were willing to take up the job even if it meant operating at a loss, Chui added. “The number of people in quarantine camps is usually around 200. All of a sudden the caterer has to supply meals to more than 2,000 people. It’s a big jump in a tight time crunch,” he added.