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Safety of food at schools scrutinized

Wang Xiaoyu
Updated: Mar 18,2019 7:00 AM     China Daily

China’s market regulator has ordered local food watchdogs to carry out safety inspections at schools and report their findings before April 15.

The move was announced over the weekend, following World Consumer Rights Day, which falls on March 15 each year. It is also the latest step in controlling food safety hazards after moldy food found at a primary school in Chengdu, Sichuan province, sparked an outcry.

Zhang Mao, minister of the State Administration of Market Regulation, said a host of issues, including inadequate training of food safety supervisors, unreliable suppliers, outdated facilities and patchy quality control, have made ensuring food safety at schools a complex and arduous task.

This year, incidents of food contamination at schools should be lower than 2018, Zhang said, and the proportion of catering services on campuses that employ a transparent working environment subject to public supervision should reach 70 percent.

The Ministry of Education and the National Health Commission will join forces to hold school principals accountable for providing acceptable food to students, and enhance monitoring and research on food-borne diseases, a conference held on March 16 determined.

The Chengdu incident came to light last week when photos of rotting meat, bread products and vegetables — purportedly taken at the primary school affiliated with Chengdu No 7 High School Development School — circulated online. Dozens of students reported diarrhea or stomach pains.

Local authorities said on March 17 that the principal has been removed and the school board will be reshuffled. All food stored in the campus cafeteria has been taken away, according to an earlier statement.

Local authorities said Jiang Hong, the school principal, should take primary responsibility for the defective management, weak enforcement of food safety regulations and inability to resolve disputes connected with the scandal. A new principal has been appointed to improve the quality of education and logistics services on campus.

An investigation found that noodles made from potato starch in the school’s cafeteria were moldy, while all other food was found to be safe.

Food safety concerns affecting children were spotlighted by China Central Television during a program devoted to consumers on March 15 to mark World Consumer Rights Day. Business misconduct and violations are exposed during the show.

One prominent example this year revealed unsanitary conditions at facilities where spicy gluten strips are made. The strips are a cheap snack popular with teenagers and omnipresent at food stalls near schools.

The revelation prompted the State Administration of Market Regulation to urge immediate probes into companies named in the expose in Henan and Hunan provinces. Wider inspections of the industry that makes spicy strips and other low-priced snacks targeting teens will also be carried out, according to a statement published by the administration hours after the gala.

Local regulatory bodies are also taking action to verify and address consumer grievances voiced during the show.

The market regulation administration in Xiantao, Hubei province, has sealed all products at a local diaper company that was reported to have used substandard materials.

Market watchdogs in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces have launched spot checks on Grandma’s Home, a well-known restaurant chain serving homestyle dishes, after one branch was found to have violated hygiene regulations in its kitchen. The problem store was suspended, and dozens of others were ordered to make corrections.