Food contamination blamed for diarrhea outbreak at 4 Taipei schools

Taipei, Bacterial contamination of boxed lunches was the cause of a diarrhea outbreak that occurred earlier this month among nearly 500 students at four schools in Taipei, a health official said Monday.

Wang Ming-li (???), head of the Food and Drug Division under Taipei City Government's Department of Health, said the boxed lunches served on Jan. 5 at the four schools was found to contain high levels of bacillus cereus, a type of bacteria that produces toxins and can cause illness in conditions where it multiplies rapidly in food.

On Jan. 6, some 498 students at four elementary and junior high schools in Taipei fell ill with diarrhea and seven of them were diagnosed with gastroenteritis after they sought medical treatment.

It was later determined that that all the students had eaten school lunches provided by the same caterer the previous day.

Wang said tests showed that the boxed lunches contained bacillus cereus in a concentration of 1,100 per gram, more than 10 times the acceptable level.

In addition, three people employed by the caterer tested positive for intestinal bacillus cereus, while an inspection of the food preparation facility found cracks in the ceiling and floor, Wang said.

She said the catering service has since been suspended and may be subject to a fine of between NT$60,000 (US$1,895) and NT$200 million.

However, the caterer may be allowed to resume service after meeting several requirements, including repair and disinfection of the food preparation facility, a clean bill of health of its staff, and completion of a four-hour training session on food poisoning prevention, Wang said.

According to health officials, bacillus cereus could cause vomiting and diarrhea because of the toxins it produces in certain foods if they are left at room temperature for too long.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel