Five children of the same family died in Karachi on Friday after allegedly consuming toxic food, prompting authorities to seal a branch of a popular biryani chain for investigation, police told Dawn.
According to Superintendent of Police (SP) Gulshan Tahir Noorani, the siblings — ranging between the ages of 1.5 years and 10-years-old — their parents, and their paternal aunt had consumed food from Naubahar restaurant in the Saddar area.
All five siblings passed away today, while their aunt is in critical condition, according to SSP South Pir Mohammad Shah.
SSP Shah told Dawn that the children’s mother started vomiting and fell down inside the bathroom at around 3:30am at Qasr-e-Naz — a government lodge where they were staying.
Her husband, Faisal Kakar, assumed that she has suffered a heart attack and immediately took her to Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) where she was administered first aid.
When the couple returned at around 9am, they were shocked to find that two of their children were already dead and three others were in an unconscious state. Faisal’s sister was also barely able to speak.
Faisal then took his five children and sister to AKUH again at around 10am where all children were pronounced dead.
Quoting the doctors, the SSP said that the children were already dead around half an hour before their arrival at the AKUH.
He said that the children’s mother was saved ostensibly due to timely treatment.
The father said that his family had also had lunch at a friend's home in Balochistan's Khuzdar area earlier in the day, before consuming chips and juice in Hub. The family hails from Quetta and according to the SSP, Kakar is a landlord in Balochistan.
Since there was no more room in the air ambulance, the couple left for Quetta on a flight, while the bodies of their children were sent later on through the air ambulance.
Police said they would attempt to track down samples of all the food that the family had consumed on their journey from Quetta to Karachi.
Dozens detained, eateries sealed
Police have detained at least 32 people from three different places and collected 33 samples along with a team from SFA and Karachi University’s Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Research Institute of Chemistry.
In addition, a famous biryani chain which supplied biryani to Naubahar has also been sealed, said DIG South Sharjeel Kharal.
The senior officer told Dawn that 32 people in total have been detained from Naubahar, the biryani chain, and Qasr-e-Naz where the family members had stayed.
The DIG said out of 33 samples, 20 samples have been taken from Naubahar, six from Qasr-e-Naz and seven from the biryani chain for investigation.
Furthermore, Naubahar restaurant and the bedroom, store room and kitchen of Qasr-e-Naz have also been sealed for investigation.
DIG Kharal said samples from the bodies of the deceased siblings will be sent to a laboratory in Lahore on Saturday to ascertain the exact cause of death.
Dr Shakeel Ahmed of KU's HEJ Research Centre told Dawn that they have collected 11 samples from the vomit, clothes, powder, blankets, and floor of the bedroom.
DG Sindh Food Authority Amjad Leghari said that they would send the food samples to the official technical lab located in Korangi.
He clarified that they had also sealed the biryani outlet as the food boxes obtained by the family from Naubahar carried the food chain's name.
CM orders inquiry, SFA submits report
Earlier in the day, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah took grave notice of the death of the five children.
He instructed the commissioner to personally meet the affected family and make their travel arrangements if they want to go back to Quetta. "I am deeply saddened by this incident, and I can feel the parents' pain," Shah said. "They will get justice."
He also directed Sindh Food Authority (SFA) to collect samples of food from the restaurant and send them for laboratory testing.
The initial report sent to the chief minister by the SFA and police said that a family from Quetta, Balochistan reached Karachi last night at around 8pm and stayed in a room at Qasar-e-Naz, a federal government lodge.
While coming from Quetta, the family stayed in Khuzdar and Hub and took some food.
When they entered Karachi last night the family took bought some takeaway biryani and ate in their room. After consuming the biryani, the mother started vomiting and was taken to AKUH by her husband.
On Friday morning, when he returned to the room with his wife, his five children, and one girl, a relative, were found unconscious. He rushed them to the hospital where the five children were declared dead.
The SFA team on the directives of the chief minister took samples of food from the restaurant Naubahar, located near the passport office in Saddar, from where they had purchased the biryani.
They also collected leftover food and used plates from the room where the family was staying so they may be sent for laboratory testing.
The concerned police have also taken action as per their procedure.
The chief minister also directed the Commissioner Karachi to arrange shifting of the aggrieved family along with six bodies back to Balochistan.
AIG seeks Karachiites' complaints against restaurant
AIG Shaikh has requested Karachiites, who had consumed food — especially biryani — from Naubahar Restaurant on February 21 (Thursday) and experienced any discomfort, to contact the police on either its Whatsapp number (0343-5142770) or its landline number (021-99225500).
The incident comes months after two minor brothers had died in Karachi after consuming food from an upscale restaurant.
A earlier version of the story erroneously stated that the mother was in critical condition. It was, in fact, the children's aunt. The error is regretted.