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Japan’s Tainted School Food Incident

Posted June. 26, 2006 09:26,   


A school food poisoning incident took place in Japan in April. However, they handled the incident very differently from Korea. In April 21, about 300 students from three middle schools (Higashi, Hokuto, and Nansei middle schools) in Kofu, Yamanashi, showed symptoms of diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

School authorities, a catering company, and local governments dealt with the incident with great caution as if a military operation were being conducted.

That day, a number of students called in sick and vomited in class. Out of three schools, two schools authorities dismissed students before noon and the other one continued classes and asked another company for catering because it concluded that the lunch served the day before may have caused food poisoning. These schools sent written messages to parents and informed them of how the situation was going on.

The local public health centers launched investigations into a company that serviced poisoned foods to students and examined the students’ excrement.

On April 24, three days after the incident occurred, the department of hygiene and pharmacy in Yamanashi announced that the students were infected by the Noro virus and the number of victims reached 585.

Meanwhile, the Kofu Board of Education held an emergency meeting and faxed special requests, stressing caution on food hygiene, to principals of all elementary and middle schools located in Kofu. And pamphlets were distributed to these three schools carrying measures to prevent a second infection of the Noro virus.

The authorities also inspected the catering company in question and three catering centers to examine the sanitary conditions of their kitchens and to check if workers washed their hands before cooking.

In April 28, the sanitary authority announced that Noro virus was detected in one worker’s body of the catering center that provided poisoned meals to the students

As soon as this report was announced, health authority officials visited victims’ houses to explain the situation, made a deep apology, and promised to prevent such incidents from occurring again. Almost every day, newspapers carried coverage of this incident, including the government’s strengthened sanitary education of workers in catering centers and the story of the authority’s deep apology to parents of the students.

After all measures were ended and the cause of food poisoning was revealed, the health authority ordered the catering center to resume business. However, the president shut up the center, saying, “It was my fault to neglect a sanitary check,” adding, “I will offer my humble apology by closing my business.”

On May 6, the Yamanashi Board of Education concluded its compensation policy for victims of food poisoning.

After the School Meal Service Act was legislated in 1956, all elementary and middle school students have been eligible to school meal service. 99 percent of elementary schools and 80 percent of middle school offer meal service now.

Japan’s school food poisoning incident this April was the first since 1996. The local community authorities are now moving fast to create a manual to prevent such incidents from occurring again.

Young-A Soh sya@donga.com