The spate of food scares this year has given Thai consumers understandable cause for concern. They range from world-famous Swedish meatballs that were found to contain horsemeat instead of beef to contaminants introduced by the excessive recycling of cooking oil and the overuse of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. The number of food poisoning cases also rang alarm bells at the Ministry of Public Health, which is nervously watching the deadly spread of separate strains of bird flu in China and Cambodia.
Action was unusually swift. Public health professionals will now join hands with the Ministry of Education in a two-year project to improve the safety of food served to schoolchildren. The urgency is due to research that showed more than a million cases of food poisoning and diarrhoea occurring last year and a similar number in 2011. Emphasis will be placed on the use of quality ingredients in the preparation of food at schools and childcare centres and closer monitoring of outbreaks.
The initial goal is a 30% reduction in cases. The move is timely because the present high temperatures, drought in the Northeast and severe storms in the South can lead to disruptions in supply and a seasonal rise in gastroenteritis due to food spoilage. Projects such as these may begin with schoolchildren but should not end with them. The biggest problem is that contamination can occur before the food even reaches the market, vendor or school. Fruit and vegetables can be laced with insecticides, meat contaminated by antibiotics given to livestock, and seafood by heavy metals.