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Food poisoning in schools: lapses in sanitation

An outbreak of food poisoning in a Mumbai school has brought the dangers of the condition to the public’s attention.

The incident involved sixteen private school children and a teacher in Sahyadri Vidya Mandir in suburban Bhandup. They were were admitted to hospital in Mulund and placed under observation for 24 hours.

                  Poor sanitation is paving the way for food poisoning outbreaks

This is not the only food poisoning case to affect school children recently. An incident which occurred on August 10 affected over 400 students. Most were reportedly hospitalised due to suspected poisoning after they took iron-boosting medicines given by the school. One girl died during the incident.

Food poisoning was the second most common cause of infectious disease outbreak in India in 2017. Out of the 1,649 disease outbreaks reported until December 3 of last year, 242 were due to food poisoning, according to data from the Union Health Ministry.

As shown in the cases above, food poisoning has the potential to affect large groups of people in cases where large numbers of people consume the same food. As this is often the case at restaurants or schools, outbreaks frequently number in the hundreds and cause mass hospitalisations.

Data from the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) supports this. It suggests that incidence of food poisoning is far higher in places where food is prepared in bulk quantities.

These issues are not aided by the fact that India’s food regulatory bodies are widely criticised for lapsed practices. The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – the country’s top regulator of food quality and safety – is under particular scrutiny for low standards and poor implementation.

India’s records on food safety are damning. An audit verification exercise of 4,895 food analysis reports taken from state food laboratories revealed that 4,866 (99 percent) of the samples had not been analysed for pesticides. Further tests revealed that 4,698 (96 percent) were not analysed for microbial contamination as required by food safety protocols.

While food poisoning is not usually fatal, it can cause complications in those with preexisting medical conditions. Its potential to cause mass hospitalisation can also clog health systems in areas with limited capacity, potentially hindering the ability of medical staff to address more pressing medical situations.

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