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Students get sick as school kitchens go unhygienic

11,July, 2019
 

Two instances of shigella bacterial infection reported in two weeks from different districts in the State

The government and aided schools in the State may be getting a high-tech makeover, but the kitchens serving free food to children will have to go a long way in reaching passable hygiene standards.

The departments of Health and Food Safety do not have much of a say in ensuring hygiene in schools though two instances of shigella bacterial infection were reported in two weeks in different districts.

Filthy water source

Over 40 children of West Lower Primary School, Keezhppayyur, in Kozhikode district were hospitalised on June 21 after they complained of vomiting and diarrhoea. The presence of shigella bacteria in their stool samples and the subsequent testing of water samples proved that the water source used for cooking lunch had been contaminated.

More than 90 children of the Government Lower Primary School, Eruva, near Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district, were taken ill with suspected food poisoning on July 5. The presence of shigella bacteria was found in the stool samples of at least two students there too.

It is left to the education committee in local bodies to inspect the hygiene standards of the food preparation in schools in their jurisdiction ahead of the beginning of the academic year. Health Department officials, however, pointed out that the inspection and subsequent certification were often completed in a hurry as most of them would be preoccupied with other public health campaigns. The number of schools within the local body limits could be higher too. Most often, only random sampling of food and water was being done.

In most of the schools, the kitchen and dining halls are found to be located in congested sheds. The areas for cleaning vessels and waste disposal too are in a similar condition. Though the government had mandated setting up biogas plants in schools, many schools were found to have purchased portable units just for the sake of it.

The Food Safety Department, meanwhile, has the powers to declare only packaged food items as contaminated.

MoU for testing samples

Education Department officials, however, claimed that the State government in February last year had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cashew Export Council of India laboratory for the testing of food and water samples in schools.

Food samples are subjected to microbiological and chemical testing. The lab had found the presence of E-coli bacteria, coliform bacteria and mold fungus in 14 of the 460 food samples collected from across 460 schools in different districts soon after the MoU was signed.

It was reported that contamination occurred before serving the meal and through the water used for cooking it. The free lunch scheme is being implemented in 12,327 schools and the inspection had so far covered 8,000 schools. The rest would be covered soon, an official in charge of the scheme in the office of the Directorate of General Education told The Hindu on Wednesday.

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