CAIRO: An outbreak of food poisoning has sickened thousands of Egyptian schoolchildren this month, figures showed Thursday, sending parents rushing to hospitals and leading the Education Ministry to temporarily suspend its school lunch program.
Egypt saw 4,650 suspected food poisoning cases in schools nationwide in March alone, the Cabinet said in a statement carried by state-run news agency MENA, compared to some 300 cases previously reported since the beginning of the academic year in September.
In a single incident last week in the southern city of Sohag, at least 3,353 students were affected. Similar outbreaks have taken place this week in other governorates, though on a much smaller scale, including in the canal city of Suez, Menoufiya in the Nile Delta and the southern city of Aswan.
The Education Ministry suspended the distribution of school meals nationwide as of Thursday, saying late Wednesday that a committee will be formed to "find out the reasons behind these occurrences ... and conduct required investigations." School meals are provided to around nine million students in Egypt daily.
Sobhi Abdelrahman, the nutrition director at the Education Ministry, told The Associated Press that "the suspension decision covers all the meals that might have caused the problem."
"We are waiting on the findings of the public prosecution, who is investigating the case," he added, affirming that meals undergo "thorough examination" by authorities prior to distribution.
Health Minister Tarek Shawki described the suspension as a "precautionary" measure in a televised interview with a local TV station. In a press conference Thursday, Health Ministry official Amr Kandil said an investigation of school meals had detected no microbes linked to food poisoning.