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School Food Poisoning

There are two major stories that have been grabbing headlines over the summer: the rising cost of everything, and a growing number of food safety concerns. As the school year begins, it seems these two issues have converged in a way that could have deadly effects.

In many parts of China school lunch prices are not actually set by the schools themselves, but by local gov’t mandates. This means that when the cost of pork, or other ingredients, increases for the school, the price to the students has to remain the same. Since actions to raise the price would not be welcomed (there have been mini-riots in schools that tried this, even when inflation was much lower), cafeterias are left with two options: one being to decrease the amount of food each student receives (or just the amount of meat, as pork prices have risen sharply over the last year); or two, seek lower quality ingredients and hope for the best.

At the hospital where I work there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the food since I started here last fall (we are also resisting increasing the cost of the set meal for workers). My favorite dish, shizitou (狮子头), essentially a ball of steamed ground pork, has become increasingly disappointing. It now seems to be equal parts meat and flour, which leaves it with a gritty, pasty texture. Many of my co-workers have responded by bringing their own food from home. However, given the options, I’m glad the hospital has taken this route (although there are whispers of food safety problems even in the hospital’s dining room).

In many parts of China though, it seems that schools have opted to reduce the quality of their ingredients. It is scary to imagine the quality of ingredients in a meal that costs a student roughly $.50, and still allows a profit margin for the school. During the first week of classes alone, more than 185 students were hospitalized due to food poisoning.

While the government claims that inspections are being ramped up to limit food related scandals, I have relatively little faith in the inspectors or the schools to actually take the actions needed to prevent future problems (I say I am skeptical because at one of the university cafeterias where I worked in Guangxi rat poison was accidentally added to the food). More regulations and “inspections” do nothing to actually address the root of the problem: safe food is too expensive.

This is a worrying start, and a trend that I fear will become worse as the Chinese gov’t continues to struggle with rising food costs, and until inflation comes under control, China’s children are at risk.


8 Comments

  1. Westlake says:

    Yes Tom, you totally see the cause of these poisoning, and One reason contributed to the food price is the China highway system charged too much from lorry transportation,which is a main mean of food commute, pushing the food price in a considerable level.

  2. King Tubby says:

    I cant find the reference, but food regulation in China is spread over six or so departments at the provincial level, thus its inefficiency, which can also be attributed to the lack of suitable training for inspectors.
    Sooner or later there will be a truly massive poisoning incident, and it which really shake the social harmony rhetoric.

  3. me says:

    I think the best solution for those six or so departments is just to create another one to manage them all. Fight fire with fire…

  4. […] 中国见红博客:中国的学校食物中毒现象——中国很多地方的学校午餐价格不是由学校制定,而是由政府制定。随着物价上涨,同样的钱吃到的东西质量在下降 […]

  5. […] but simply another story that will pass through the papers in a few days, much like the rash of food poisoning cases happening in school cafeterias I reported on a few weeks ago. As long as the public sees the situation as hopeless, and feels that […]

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