Frozen strawberries served in school lunches in kindergartens and schools in Berlin and other cities in eastern Germany have been identified as the culprit.
Norovirus has been identified from the strawberries. The food distributor says frozen strawberries were imported from China, according to NHK News.
44 metric tonnes of them, according to Germany's Spiegel.
According to Spiegel, the company responsible for giving tainted frozen strawberries to kids is a French company Sodexo, who can provide school lunches at a rock-bottom price of 1.55 euros per meal. The article also points out that the rapidly growing school lunch catering industry is the result of the push by the German government for all-day schools, where children need to be fed. This continues, as no one wants to be responsible for fixing it. (Now that starts to sound familiar...)
From Spiegel International Online (10/9/2012):
Putting Profits Before Nutrition: The Dark Side of the School Meals Business
By Susanne Amann, Sebastian Brauns and Nils Klawitter
Experts now believe that frozen strawberries from China are behind a massive outbreak of the norovirus that recently affected thousands of schoolchildren in eastern Germany. The episode merely illustrates the deplorable state of school lunches, a problem no one seems willing to fix.
The first school lunch that Martha Payne photographed in May consisted of a croquette, a small pizza, a bit of corn and a muffin. The nine-year-old from Scotland gave the meal six out of 10 points for taste on her "food-o-meter" and four out of 10 for healthiness.
Her plan had only been to take a shot in order to show her father that the meal wasn't enough to fill her up, she wrote on her blog. After only a week, Payne had 25,000 hits on her blog, and now hundreds of thousands are reading it.
Whoever looks at the photos will not be surprised by the debate that has been raging in Germany for two weeks about what is actually served to children in school cafeterias. Much more amazing is the fact that it took so long to reach a crisis like the one that has happened in eastern Germany, where more than 11,000 schoolchildren were recently affected by gastrointestinal sickness -- most likely because of what they ate at school.
"We already calculated long ago that an episode like this would happen because the entire system is messed up from beginning to end," says Michael Polster, head of DNSV, an association that advocates healthier school meals in Germany. "Rapidly growing demand is running up against massive cost pressure (and) absurd bureaucracy in an altogether lawless area," he says.
A move by the German government in recent years to push forward an expansion in the number of all-day schools, has prompted explosive growth in the school catering business. Germany has 11 million children attending 45,000 schools, and the number of them being fed at these schools is rising. As a result, the school catering business is becoming highly competitive and growing at an annual rate of 5 percent. Already today, the five largest school catering companies generate combined revenues of some €160 million ($208 million) in the country.
By far the largest of these is the French company Sodexo. Last week, the company and its products quickly fell under suspicion of being at least partially responsible for the mass outbreak of illness in eastern Germany because many of the affected establishments were supplied by its industrial kitchens.
The self-described specialist in "quality of life services" offers an extremely broad range of services, from nursing care to cleaning to catering. The company's global sales are estimated at €18 billion, and its 391,000 employees make it one of the 25 largest employers in the world. The family of company founder Pierre Bellon is believed to be the richest family in France.
Insufficiently Heated Strawberries
After German reunification in 1990, Sodexo made significant investments in its Germany-based operations. The company took over a number of company cafeterias in the states that belonged to the former East Germany, including one in the city of Halle located right next to a former state-owned paint, varnish and flooring plant. To this day, plasticizers are stored in huge tanks in the courtyard near the kitchen, which is surrounded by rat traps. Signs warn about dangers to reproductive health.
The French quickly became sector leaders with rock-bottom prices of €1.55 ($2) per meal and many employees working at dumping wages, according to the NGG union. Today, 65 Sodexo kitchens supply 200,000 daily meals all across Germany.
Questioning of patients and analyses of the supply chain provided indications tracing the cause of the recent epidemic of diarrhea and vomiting to a supplier who provided Sodexo and at least two other catering companies with frozen strawberries from China. The batch involves 44 metric tons of the fruit that were imported into Germany via the port of Hamburg.
According to the findings of a working group composed of state and local officials, "at least 10" of the Sodexo kitchens in eastern Germany had processed and failed to sufficiently heat the frozen strawberries from this delivery. Sodexo describes the episode as a "regrettable isolated case" and says that use of the goods in question was "blocked" after it was announced that the strawberries might be to blame.
Late Friday evening, Sodexo's German operations issued a press release saying that it was "shocked" by the outbreak. The company added that it apologized to all affected children and families and that it hopes that the children have gotten better. In addition to pledging to improve quality control and to take other preventative measures, the company said it would "compensate those affected for the unpleasantness that occurred."
On Tuesday, Germany's center for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute, declared that the contaminated strawberries had been identified and removed, but it also confirmed that one batch of the frozen strawberries had tested positive for the highly contagious norovirus.
(Full article at the link)
School lunches seem to be dumping grounds for cheap and/or unwanted food items, also in countries other than Japan. I'm a bit surprised that this happened in Germany.
Sodexo, Inc.'s website says it is the world leader in "Quality of Daily Life Solutions". There is Sodexo South Korea, but none in Japan. So far.
Speaking of frozen fruits, some cities in Kanagawa Prefecture continue to serve frozen mandarin oranges even if they have been already tested and confirmed to have radioactive cesium. Why? Because the contract with the vendor is more sacred.
It seems Japan will be a great fit for the French company.