Shanghai school food scare triggers city wide kitchen health check
- Head dismissed after concerned parents find mouldy vegetables and out-of-date seasonings at international private school
- Local arm of global catering company Compass Group in the spotlight as investigations continue
The head of a well-known international school in Shanghai has been dismissed as health and education authorities in the eastern Chinese city investigate the discovery of mouldy tomatoes and onions in a kitchen preparing food for pupils.
The Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that it would join the municipal education authority to investigate the SMIC Private School, following a tip from parents regarding the spoiled vegetables and expired seasonings found in the school’s kitchen on Friday.
The incident triggered wide concern in the city since the food supplier also serves as a vendor to most of Shanghai’s international schools.
Located in the Pudong area, SMIC is a K-12 school funded by China’s largest semiconductor producer, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC). It recruits pupils from families of its own workforce as well as from outside the company, and charges tuition fees as high as 120,000 yuan (US$17,300) a year.
The food supplier, identified by the health authorities as Shanghai Eurest Food Technologies Service Company, is wholly-owned by the UK-based Compass Group, a global catering service provider.
Eurest has been put under investigation for “violating food safety regulations,” according to the food authority.
Parents of the SMIC school began to look into what their children were eating at school when a parent visited the school last Wednesday and happened to see their lunch consisted of only two steamed stuffed buns, a duck leg, a small serving of vegetables and a pack of milk – very different from the menu the school had told parents it would be providing, according to a report in Xinmin Evening News.
The school provides lunch to pupils at a standard cost of 24 yuan per day, according to social media posts quoted by the newspaper on Saturday.
Photographs taken by a parent and posted on social media sparked angry responses from other parents, who pressured the school to hold a meeting with them on Friday to discuss the catering situation.
At the event, some of the parents asked to visit the kitchen and the school agreed. They were shocked to find badly mouldy tomatoes and onions in the baskets for raw vegetables, the report said.
Some half-cooked items of food in the refrigerator carried labels that said the production date was October 20, a day after the parents’ visit, and some seasonings were past their labelled expiry dates. Parents also estimated that 40 per cent of pupils’ bowls in the kitchen had dishwashing detergent residue on them.
“I finally got to know the reason for my kid’s frequent vomiting and diarrhoea,” wrote one mother, who did not use her real name, on her WeChat account.
Parents at the school immediately contacted the police and the food monitoring authority. The next day, authorities conducted “unannounced inspections” of the canteens in 28 schools that use Eurest and the company’s storage facilities.
All kindergartens and primary and middle schools in the city were also required to carry out their own examinations, according to the food authority’s statement on Tuesday.
The food authority said so far officials had found one bottle of seasoning with a fake production date at SMIC Shanda Kindergarten; and one bottle of expired seasoning and some out-of-date bread in a dustbin at Shanghai Concordia International School’s kitchen.
Eurest, which provides catering to these two institutions, was told to suspend its service, a statement from the food authority said.
“We are deeply sorry for the worry it has caused the pupils and their families and we wish to express our sincere apologies,” Shanghai Eurest Food Technologies Service said on Monday.
The company suspended catering supply to the SMIC school in accordance with a government request and also suspended the service to some other schools in the city, as required by parents and the schools, the company said.
Many international schools in Shanghai have sent statements to parents to allay their concerns and have also checked their kitchens since last week’s incident.
A man whose two sons are primary school pupils at Concordia International School said he was “unhappy and concerned” because their school’s catering was also provided by Eurest.
“In the past this catering company was the school’s selling point as the school boasted this food supplier is a big international brand. So we had never thought there were problems in the kitchen,” he told the South China Morning Post.
“But now I am worrying about the quality of food my kids had at the school.”
He said many parents were angry with the school for using Eurest. “As a solution, we selected some representatives and asked the school to let these representatives visit the kitchen as they like. The school agreed to our request,” he said.
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But the mother of a grade one girl at YK Pao School, another leading international school in Shanghai, said she was calm although her daughter’s school used Chartwells, a catering service provider whose parent company is also Compass.
“There might be some misunderstanding,” said the woman, who only gave her surname as Xiong.
She said her daughter, 7, often told her the lunch at school was sufficient for her to eat and was “delicious”. The girl never complained about stomach pains or had diarrhoea after school, the mother said.
“The school’s kitchen is beside my daughter’s teaching building. We often pass by the kitchen and from its window, we found its environment is pretty good,” she said, adding that she recently was teaching her daughter how to read the production date on milk packs.
Kindergartens and schools on the mainland are often reported for supplying poor quality food to children.
Last month, two people were detained amid an investigation by authorities in Wuhu, in the southeastern province of Anhui, into three private kindergartens for serving rotten and out-of-date food to children.