Wednesday, October 10, 2012

11,000 Pupils Came Down with Food Poisoning, in Germany; Frozen Strawberries from China in School Lunch to Blame

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.


doitujin said...

well, first, it reminded me of japan, too, but it was covered daily in the news here for about a week now, many parents stopped their children from having food at school and no child was forced to eat anyway for solidarity or whatever else crappy reason there might be and after this incident, they want to start to monitor german school lunches more precisely now (they did monitor them before, but the results were not discussed in detail for the public as there were no major cases like this), while in japan, as you stated, they don't really care at the beginning, have dubious reasons to force children into having school lunch anyway and then, even if they know about cesium etc., they keep feeding that stuff... as if what happened in germany wouldn't be bad enough already, i almost can't believe this happens in a country like japan right now...

∂arth3/11 said...

How the hell can they feed CESIUM contaminated food to their own KIDS?

Nancy said...

The US lunch system is the exact same way. It is a dumping ground for food that can't be sold retail due to low quality. Most of the school lunch foods are processed foods they get frozen and just heat up. Very little is actually cooked anymore. We won't let our kids eat school lunch after an incident a few years ago where they fed them previously frozen pocket sandwiches that were a year past their expiration date. Then the next week the entree was corn chips and gravy.
At least in the US kids have the option of bringing their own lunch. Many parents in Japan have complained that schools won't let them do that or seriously discourage it.
It is bad enough we are feeding kids horrible food but refusing to let them have another option is criminal.

Anonymous said...

If you spend 1.55 Euros for lunch, you're not buying real food.

Contrary to what most people believe, the worldwide educational system that currently exists is not there to promote the growth and development of children to their fullest potential. The system was created by bankers to promote their agenda of 'control of the masses', to keep children compliant and to make them conformists. To keep them from having their own independent thoughts.

Once the above is understood, it will not be surprising that the foods served to children at schools is of such low quality. The growth and development of children, both physical and mental, is critically dependent on the quality of the foods that they eat. It does not take a 'rocket scientist' to understand this.

Anonymous said...

I read down to the "rock-bottom price" and thought "typical". We're not going to go anywhere as a species if we're always cutting corners to save cash. Raising kids on garbage isn't going to work. You are what you eat.

I was re-watching one of my favorite animes yesterday, and noticed that Japanese cafeterias seem to cook nice, wholesome meals. But I've no idea if the quality of that food is good or not.

When I was at school, they only served crap like potato chips, nuggets, hot dogs, donuts and pies. They often tasted like shit. I would have loved to have had proper meals.

Everyone was always pushing or sneaking into the line, too. I'd often sprint to line up early, only to be pushed back by scum sneaking in front of me, and then the food was sometimes sold out. Even if I was first or second in line to be served, I'd be pushed all the way to the back. I tried stopping them a few times - even threw one guy out - but their friends and relatives didn't like me doing that.

Yes, they always got away with it. Encouraging kids to be assholes sure starts early. Welcome to human society! Love that education! I wonder if the same thing happens in Japan? Wouldn't be surprised.

Atomfritz said...

Old German student slang:
(Mensa = German word for school or university luncheria)
"Mensaschlamm" = Mensa sludge (=mensa food)
"Der Student geht in die Mensa, bis er bricht" = the student visits the "mensa" until he/she vomits/breaks (brechen can be translated in both ways)

Anonymous said...

In the German school we have a small local caterer with good credentials. It is very difficult to find good quality food and someone who can offer it at an economic price. Also small caterers who care about quality cannot do hundreds of meals, plus the school does not have its own kitchen (no space, costs of building kitchen and associated facilities is prohibitive). At the moment we pay EUR 3 per meal. Many parents are happy to pay more, but of course some parents cannot afford more. Perhaps a more innovative way of raising funds is needed.

We are currently in Japan and my son says the school food is much better. I don't need to comment on the contamination issue here, especially in this area where I still measure 0.6 uSv/h well above ground.

At work we also have Sodexo and it is terrible. However, I have been to events catered by them and it was excellent. You get what you pay for I suppose.

It's ironic that the French are in the business of producing bad food. Seems like an unconscionable thing to do for a French person.

Anonymous said...

"It's ironic that the French are in the business of producing bad food. Seems like an unconscionable thing to do for a French person."

^ Hahahaha.

VyseLegendaire said...

My university's cafeteria's were staffed and operated by Sodexo as well. The food is barely a step above your typical low-grade elementary school cafeteria trash served in counties all across the USA. Bottom dollar, bottom value, the downward spiral continues. "freedom" and "democracy" were always code words for "inverted totalitarianism."

Anonymous said...

Noroviruses are generally transmitted by fecal contamination so it sounds like Sodexo got a bargain on a megaton of Chinese Pooberries and a bunch of poor people got the runs. From the description below NoroV sounds pretty virulent especially in a group situation like a school.

"Noroviruses are transmitted directly from person to person and indirectly via contaminated water and food. They are highly contagious, and less than twenty virus particles can cause an infection. Transmission occurs through ingesting contaminated food and water and by person-to-person spread. Transmission through fecal-oral can be aerosolized when those stricken with the illness vomit and can be aerosolized by a toilet flush when vomit or diarrhea is present; infection can follow eating food or breathing air near an episode of vomiting, even if cleaned up. The viruses continue to be shed after symptoms have subsided and shedding can still be detected many weeks after infection."

Twenty particles to infection sounds like the title to a horror/scifi movie where the humans don't win. I'd hate to be the janitors at those schools they probably run a pretty high risk of getting sick cleaning up all the messes.

kitchener said...

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