Interview: “School Authorities Should Inspect Vendors’ Food”

Dr. Marlyse Peyou Ndi, Nutritionist, Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Yaounde 1, talks on the caution to take in buying food at school.


What type of food is recommended for children in school?

School-age children from 4 to18 years need between 1,400 and 3,200 calories per day, depending on their age, gender and level of activity. The amount of physical activity they have in a day will be an important part to determine how much they need to eat. During school time, they need breakfast, lunch and snack. Food in the morning helps children to stay active and concentrate at school. It can help with their school performance.

Their meals at school should be healthy and contain all food groups, at least one item from the following: Carbohydrate group: bread, pasta, rice, bread, doughnuts cooked onsite with healthy oil, etc. Protein group: chicken, meat, fish, beans, peanut butter, eggs, etc. Dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. Commercially-packed fruits that have been washed with running water: orange, pineapple, etc. Cooked vegetables are safer at school. It is better to eat salad at home. Water: at least 1.5 liter a day. Children should buy food that is still hot, above 60°C to avoid food poisoning (germs grow fast between 4 and 60°C). They should limit unhealthy sweets, oily food, especially margarines with partially hydrogenated oils.

What are the dangers of eating food generally served in school?

Food generally served in school can be a cause of nutrient malnutrition, food poisoning and sometimes epilepsy. Food served in school is generally cooked in large quantity and kept at temperatures that favour germs and parasites growth.  This growth is favored by storage at improper temperature; repeated negligence and poor personal hygiene; inadequate or careless food handling; inadequate cooking; contaminated materials, equipment and water; food contaminated at source. All of these lead to increased fecal-oral transmission diseases caused by bacteria, viruses (Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Human Rotavirus, etc.), parasites (Amoebas, Tenia that is a cause of epilepsy, etc).

According to WHO, unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. An estimated 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year. Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230,000 deaths every year.

What precautions should parents and school authorities take on food that is taken to school?

School authorities should inspect vendors’ food. Perishable foods kept between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F) for more than two hours are no longer safe to sell or eat. Food that is sold to children should be kept at a temperature above 60°C at the time they are purchasing it. Food vendors or all people selling food ready for consumption at school must notify the following diseases: hepatitis A, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, sore throat, skin rash and other skin lesions such as burns and cuts, and leakage of the ears, eyes or nose.

They should, for example wash hands with soap and water frequently. In addition to hand hygiene, gloves can be used and changed frequently. Nails of sellers should be kept short. They should avoid handling money and food with the same hand. Money carries viruses, bacteria and parasites.  Parents should also be trained and train their children for food poisoning prevention. When possible, they can pack a healthy lunch box or help their children make healthy choices. Kids should be provided running water and soap in school, so they can wash their hands before meals.


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