Cupcake treat at midday meal lands 341 students in hospital

An unexpected treat of mawa cupcakes given to school students as their midday meal ended in an equally unexpected - and painful - ordeal, with 341 children from Stds V-VIII having to be admitted to the hospital with food poisoning within minutes of consuming the sugary dessert.

The main building of the Anjuman Noorul Islam Trust School at Sakinaka. Pic/Amit Jadhav

While the administration of Anjuman Noorul Islam Trust School at Sakinaka claim that only 60-70 students had to be rushed to the hospital for food poisoning, BMC reports suggest that almost 341 students were taken to five different hospitals in Sakinaka and Ghatkopar for treatment. The students underwent treatment in privately-run Paramount Hospital in Sakinaka, Apex and Sant Muktabai hospitals in Ghatkopar (West) and Dhanvantari and Rajawadi hospitals in Ghatkopar.

The children had to be given injections and antacids after getting food poisoning

Out of the afflicted children, around 93 are still under observation in various hospitals. Doctors at the hospitals said that the students’ condition was stable after they were administered injections to control symptoms such as vomiting and dizziness. The incident took place in the morning hours. The cakes were handed out to the students by 9 am, which they ate during recess at 10 am. Within 15 minutes, the students started vomiting, and were doubling over with stomach cramps.

Locals and school authorities took the kids to several hospitals nearby. However, the school did not bother to inform their parents, who only came to know when some of the children returned home after being discharged. While 10 students were admitted in the ICU of Apex Hospital in Asalfa, Ghatkopar, another eight students received treatment at the ICU of Paramount Hospital. “These students were shifted to the ICU for further observation, as they were also suffering from hypotension or low blood pressure, along with other symptoms such as dizziness and nausea,” said a doctor from Apex Hospital. He added that they were discharged in the evening.

Guardian Minister (Suburbs), Naseem Khan immediately visited the hospitals and declared to parents that he would take care of the bills for the children who had been admitted. Speaking to MiD DAY, he said, “The Sakinaka police station will investigate the matter and find out who the culprit is. The FIR will be filed soon after the investigations. It is said that the cake was served by an organisation called Parivartan Mahila Bachat Gat owned by Anita Thorat. Our Congress activists immediately took the kids to several hospitals near the school.”

Meanwhile, education officer Ravindra Bhise surmised that a “cupcake is not a midday meal,” and paid a visit to the school. He added, “The school claims that they decided to give dry food for midday meal after seeing the Bihar incident. They claim they give things like cake, bhel and idli. We will investigate the matter.” According to BMC records, 341 of 654 students from Std V-VIII were admitted to the private and BMC-run hospitals. However, the principal of the school, Maliknoor Mohammed, claimed that only 60-70 got food poisoning after eating the cupcakes. The Parivartan Mahila Bachat Gat, which is on contract with the school since July, bought the cakes for students from Alfala bakery. Samples of the mawa cake have been sent to FDA for testing.

No taste test?
A rule related to the midday meal scheme makes it compulsory for the principal or schoolteachers to taste the food before it is distributed to the children. While the principal claimed that he checked the cake by tasting it, one of the teachers from the school contradicted him, saying that they had forgotten to taste the meal before distributing them to the kids. The matter is under investigation. Another teacher from school said, on condition of anonymity, “Only three people tasted the cake - me, a librarian and one more teacher. I also had to take injection from hospital after consuming cake.”

Maliknoor Mohammed, principal of school, said, “I tasted the cake before having it served to the kids and nothing happened to me. All cakes might not be bad; some could be stale because of which this unfortunate thing happened. But most of the kids cried, and seeing them, others too started crying and complaining of stomach ache and vomiting – otherwise, only 60-70 kids were affected with food poisoning. The Parivartan Mahila Bachat Gat signed contract with our school this year in the month of July. The Sakinaka police are probing the matter.”

Police action
Madhusudan Naik, investigating officer from Sakinaka police station, said, “The owners of Kurla-based Alfalfa bakery Kasimali Rashidali Ansari and Irshad Ahmad Maqbool Ansari, along with employee Irfanali Abdulsalam Sheikh were arrested. Anita Thorat, the head of the organisation Parivartan Mahila Bachat Gat was also arrested. All the arrests were made under sections of the Food Adulteration and Prevention Act, section 273 of the IPC for sale of noxious food or drink, and section 336 of the IPC for endangering life or personal safety of others.”

Not the first time
On July 16, 2013, at least 23 students died and dozens more fell ill at a primary school in the village of Dharmashati Gandaman in Saran district of Bihar, after being given a midday meal that was contaminated with pesticide.

Stop the distribution of midday meals: Parents
MiD DAY spoke to shaken students and their angry parents after the ordeal, many of whom said that the practice of giving food should be abolished and they did not want their children to eat it

Speaking to MiD DAY, a Std VI student from the Urdu school, Nikhad Naaz Shaikh (11) said, “Immediately after eating the cake, I felt extreme uneasiness in my stomach and neck. Once several of my classmates started vomiting, all of us were taken to the hospital.” Shaikh and 56 other students underwent treatment at Muktabai Hospital in the general ward, where they were given injections and antacids.

“She usually never eats the midday meal provided to her in school, as she eats a heavy breakfast at home. However, on Monday she skipped breakfast and ate the cake, which landed her in the hospital,” lamented Raeesa Shaikh, her mother. She further added that Nikhad would usually pack the midday meal and bring it home for her two-year-old brother.

“If she hadn’t eaten the cake, she would have seen how her classmates reacted to it and not brought it home either,” added Shaikh. Std V student Tiqra Choudhary (10) returned home complaining of symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness and fever, after which she was taken to Muktabai Hospital for treatment.

“She returned home after her classmates were rushed to the hospitals, but soon after, she fell sick and had to be brought for treatment,” said a relative. Alfiya Choudhary, a Std VI student, was admitted to the hospital, but was lucky enough not to experience vomiting or nausea, but only uneasiness.

“I got stomach aches after eating the cake and was brought to the hospital where I was given medicines. This is the first time so many of us have fallen ill after consuming the midday meal,” she observed. Std VI student Zakiya Sheikh said, “I ate cake and started vomiting after recess. Most of my friends were immediately rushed to Paramount Hospital with me. We don’t get khichdi for our midday meals. We get banana, sometimes coconut biscuits, bhel, cakes and bun pav.”

Nasroonisa Sheikh, her mother, said, “Stop the distribution of midday meals to school students. We don’t want our kids to eat it. We send them tiffin boxes anyway. Don’t tempt them by giving such things that will land them in hospitals.” Parent of Std VI student Chanda Sayyed, said, “My child was given an injection and sent back home. But on the way home, she started feeling uneasy and vomited again, so we had to take her back to hospital and admit her.” Another parent of a Std VII student said, requesting anonymity, “Now when the school calls for a parents’ meet, we will inform them that we don’t want a midday meal for our children.” 

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