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Egypt suspends all school meal services after mass poisoning

At least 435 children fell ill of suspected food poisoning in public schools across Egypt after eating government-issued school meals
An Egyptian school boy in Gharb Aswan village, near Aswan on 13 March 2016 (AFP)

Egypt's education ministry suspended the distribution of school meals nationwide after hundreds of children were struck down with food poisoning in several provinces, Egyptian media reported on Wednesday.

The ministry said in a statement published late Wednesday that a committee will be formed to "find out the reasons... and conduct required investigations."

At least 435 children fell ill of suspected food poisoning in public schools across Egypt after consuming government-issued school meals, produced by a military-owned company, reported Egyptian media.

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At the same time, some 120 children in the Egyptian province of Menoufia were taken to hospital on Tuesday after showing symptoms of food poisoning, a health official said Wednesday.

Hana Sorour, an undersecretary of the Egyptian ministry of health, said on an official Facebook page that “all the children are now in good condition" and had been discharged from hospital.

According to media reports, the children had suffered colic, vomiting and a slight fever after they had eaten biscuits provided for free by the government.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ordered an investigation, while the Egyptian ministry of education said in a statement on Wednesday that it has formed a committee to test the meals and reveal the cause of the students’ illness.

No findings have been made public yet. 

'Long live Egypt'

Samar, a housekeeper from Cairo, told the AP news agency that she had been collecting the food given to her children, aged six and 10, in school every day and throwing it away.

“I make sure to remind my children every day not to eat the snacks that they’re given in school. They give them a suspicious piece of cheese with a label that we’ve never seen before,” she said.

According to the Washington Post, the packet of snacks provided by the ministry as part of a project launched to enhance the students’ nutrition, carries the logo of the military-owned al-Nasr for Services and Maintenance and the phrase "long live Egypt", which was popularised by Sisi.

The ministry of education had reportedly announced earlier this year that it had contracted the military’s production arm, the National Services Projects Organisation (NSPO), to provide the meals, reported AP on Wednesday.

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In recent months, there have been several outbreaks of mass poisoning in state-run schools. They have been blamed on free meals.

Last week, more than 3,000 children in the southern Egyptian province of Sohag were treated for food poisoning after they ate school lunches including processed cheese, dried sweets and bread.