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Dead lizard in midday meal, 350 Bangalore school kids hospitalised

BANGALORE: Around 350 children of a government-run Urdu Primary School here were hospitalised on Friday for suspected food poisoning after consuming government-provided midday meal, evoking memories of 23 children who died last year in Bihar after eating food from the same welfare scheme.

A dead lizard was found in one of the seven food containers provided under the midday meal scheme at the school that led to a panic situation as food had already been served to several children.

“We stopped the children from eating and rushed them to a hospital,” said Syeda Tabassum, a school teacher who was part of the group that served food to the children on Friday.

The children with complaints of head ache, stomach ache and vomiting were taken to Dr Ambedkar Medical College Hospital with anxious parents swarming the premises, making it tough for police to control them.

Speaking to reporters, Health Minister UT Khader, who visited the hospital, said, “Around 350 students have fallen ill and have been admitted to Ambedkar Hospital. Most of them have returned home after getting the treatment.”

The children were brought to the hospital at around 3.30 pm with complaints of vomiting sensation, Anjaneya, Manager, Ananda Social and Educational Trust which runs the hospital, said. He said doctors were told that a lizard was found in the food served to the children.

“All the 350 children who were brought for treatment have been discharged,” DJ Halli Police said late in the evening. It was not immediately clear whether the contamination originated at the school or where the food was prepared. Police officials were not immediately available for a comment.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which supplies food to schools, in a statement said the food cooked by Akshaya Patra is into mass cooking and the same batch has been distributed to neighbouring schools as well.

“No complaints have been registered. The food samples are sent to laboratory for the mandatory check-ups.” It said Akshaya Patra kitchens are ISO 22000 certified and follows a strict hygiene adherence while cooking.

“All the kitchens of Akshaya Patra follow a standard process for preparing the mid-day meals. This process is charted out to ensure hygiene and quality of the cooked meal and also to adhere to the food safety standards.”

The Bangalore school has been receiving meals under the scheme for the past 10 years, but had never faced a similar issue, Tabassum said.

The mid-day meal scheme, which gives more than 100 million school pupils a free lunch, is the largest such programme in the world. It has been widely lauded as one of the most successful welfare measures in India.

But last year, 23 children died after being poisoned by a school meal provided under the scheme, sparking violent protests in Bihar. Police said cooking oil used for the meals had been stored in a used pesticide container.

For millions of poor families, the lunch is the only full meal their children eat in a day. That encourages them to send them to school and not keep them home to help with chores.