Chinese kindergartens ‘served rotten, worm-infested food’ to children, two people detained

The Straits Times

Police and education authorities in east China are investigating allegations that rotten and out-of-date food was served to children at three privately run kindergartens.

The controversy came to light on September 19 when parents accused staff at the Tongxin Kindergarten in Wuhu, Anhui province, of serving their children rice infested with black worms for their lunch, and using vinegar that was more than a year out of date.

Market regulation officials investigated the matter and substantiated the parents’ allegations. They then carried out checks at the Dedebei Kindergarten, which is operated by the same company, and discovered similar problems.

Officials then visited the Mingzhu Kindergarten – following similar complaints from parents – and identified a number of food safety violations.

As a result of the investigations, the director of the Tongxin and Dedebei schools was detained, along with an employee responsible for food production.

The vice-mayor of Wuhu, Chen Shaoguang, said that an inquiry was now under way within the local government and that eight officials were being investigated.

“We will not miss out on inspecting even one school cafeteria,” Chen said. “We will not let off anyone responsible for this.”

The Anhui education bureau said that inspections would be carried out in schools across the province during the National Day holidays, which start on Monday.

At a press conference on Thursday, the bureau said that 765 children had had medical check-ups – paid for by the local government – as a result of the food scare and about 5 per cent of them had shown some ill effects. It did not elaborate.

Until the matter is resolved, local schools and kindergartens would serve lunches provided by an external supplier, a spokesman said.

The father of a three-year-old who attends the Dedebei Kindergarten said his son began feeling unwell just three days after starting at the school.

[He] began complaining of stomachaches in the morning,” said the parent, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Xi.

“At first I thought he was making excuses not to go to school. But now that I think back, it must have been the spoilt lunches he’d had.”

A check-up revealed the boy was suffering from a mild stomach infection, for which he is now being treated.

Xi said that he and other parents had joined together to talk to the authorities about their proposals for school cafeteria reforms.

“We just want to provide our children with a good school environment. We don’t want to pull our son out of school – he was only just getting to know his classmates,” he said.

“But we are also afraid that the government’s monitoring will be short-lived and might stop once the outrage over this issue blows over.”

The scandals at the school cafeterias is nothing new in China. Last week, more than 10 pupils at primary schools in Hebei province suffered food poisoning. Parents later found what appeared to be mice droppings close to a food processing area.

Last year, 120 children needed hospital treatment after an outbreak of food poisoning at kindergartens in east China’s Jiangxi province.