After Friday night's raid at caterer Box8's Thane kitchen, FDA officials take back dal makhni and rice while students say they were served fried rice and manchurian at Thursday's conference
Here's a lesson on how not to go about an investigation. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday raided the Thane kitchen of Box8, the caterer for the Indian International Model United Nations (IIMUN) conference on Thursday whose lunch allegedly caused food poisoning among 300 to 400 participants, and collected samples of food. But here's the clincher: the samples were not from the batch of food served to the students.
Samples of food collected by the FDA
The officials picked up rice and dal makhni, when parents claimed that the lunch the kids were served comprised fried rice and manchurian ball gravy. The Mumbai police, however, managed to get it right — on Thursday, they collected samples of the food that was actually served at the four conference venues.
Suresh Deshmukh, joint commissioner of the Thane FDA unit, confirmed that the samples collected by his officials didn't belong to the batch of food served to the students. "An inspection of Box8's Thane kitchen was decided by the FDA after the food poisoning case came to light. It was an imperative step to ascertain if the meal prepared by them had caused the food poisoning."
Box8 has only one kitchen — in Thane — from where it supplies food to 28 centres in Mumbai, 10 in Pune and one in Thane. DCP and spokesperson for Mumbai Police, Dhananjay Kulkarni said, "We have collected the exact food items that were served to the students by the organizers and the caterer. We have even collected the stomach wash of the students who took ill after consuming the food."
Can't tell the difference
Meanwhile, parents of affected students and organisers have locked horns over the food served at the venues. While students said that they had fried rice and manchurian ball gravy, IIMUN organisers claimed that they had asked Box8 to serve only an Indian fare of steamed rice and dal makhni.
FDA found vessels in which meals are prepared left open when packaging was on
Noted numerologist Sanjay B Jumaani, whose daughter was among the students, confirmed what the police said. "I rushed to the venue when she called up to complain of uneasiness. When I asked what she had eaten, she said she had had fried rice and manchurian gravy served to her by the organisers."
The organisers, though, felt that the food had turned so sour that the students wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between dal and manchurian. "We had served dal makhni and rice to every student at all four centres," said Hardik Jain, vice-president of IIMUN.
So, how did Box8's kitchen score on the cleanliness and hygiene front? A food safety inspector, who was present during the raid, said, "The kitchen was not particularly clean. While the workers wore gloves and caps, the atmosphere did not appear hygienic. There were cobwebs on the walls. A drainage pipeline sits right next to the kitchen. Perishable items were not stored appropriately."
The FDA has allowed the kitchen to run despite the irregularities. Deshmukh said a decision on the kitchen's fate can be taken only after the test reports of the samples are out. When mid-day questioned the veracity of the tests since the samples taken were not from the batch of food served to the students, he said, "We had to collect [samples] from whatever was available. The items are the same — rice and dal makhni. We have also procured the raw rajma that was used in the dal. The food sent to IIMUN venues was made in limited quantities and none of it was left at the centralised kitchen."
Deshmukh added that Box8 told the FDA that the kitchen has four refrigerated vehicles, which are used to transport food to its different centres, from where it is delivered to customers. When it was pointed out that the food to the conference venues was sent in tempos, he replied that this will have to be verified.
The police, meanwhile, have registered an FIR at Khar police station. The Kalina Forensic Laboratory, however, claimed that it has not received any sample as yet. A senior scientist at the laboratory, said, "Once we get the samples, our toxicology department will conduct tests to rule out the presence of any poison. Even the stomach wash will be tested for poison. We cannot test the consumption quality of the food."
The state-run public health department laboratory can test the presence of bacterial growth in the food samples and state if the food was fit for consumption or not, said the scientist.
While IIMUN maintained that the fault lies with the caterer, Box8, in another statement issued on Saturday, Box8 trashed all allegations.'
IIMUN: Problem is with the food provided by Box8.
Box8: No deficiency in food prepared, packed and delivered by us.
IIMUN: There was no other packed food served other than Box8's.
Box8: Some other vendors also supplied packaged food and soft drinks at the event.
IIMUN: We have proof that the food was delivered late and it was after eating lunch that students started complaining.
Box8: Allegations are baseless.
IIMUN: Food quality was bad. They seem to have given two different food boxes — one for testing and another to students.
Box8: Food quality was good at the time of despatch and delivery. The organisers have confirmed it by testing the food before distribution.
IIMUN: Box8 delivered food later than agreed time. It was served as soon as it arrived.
Box8: Organisers delayed distribution of packaged food at venue, affecting quality of food.
IIMUN: Box8 boys were nowhere to be seen while we were alone looking after sick children.
Box8: We have offered our assistance to organisers in the treatment of students who fell ill.