By Lukas Steinberg
Over 11,000 elementary and high school students in Germany have been struck with abdominal influenza, with 32 of them ending up in hospital. The incident has been described as the biggest outbreak of diarrhoea with vomiting caused by contaminated food in German history, domestic media reports that the number of infections reached its peak toward the end of September.
The culprit: school food contaminated with Norovirus. As someone who went to school in Germany, we always suspected that most of the “dishes” served in school cafeterias came from hell or some other manufacturing site we’d never want to see with our own eyes – maybe it’s time to mark school food with a clear “biohazard” label.
The cause of the outbreak was quickly traced to one common denominator in the diets of the infected children: frozen strawberries from China which had been served as a dessert in schools. While the Robert Koch Institute confirmed the frozen Chinese strawberries as the trigger for the diarrhea and vomiting in lab tests, Chinese media continues to deny the results and claim that tests conducted by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), found the strawberries of the supplier perfectly clean before export. AQSIQ advised German authorities to look further in the cause and once again (is there anybody keeping score on how many times this has happened?) ordered intensified quality checks in China. The Chinese embassy in Berlin lamented the publications of “groundless reports before an official conclusion arrives.”
In the end, it all comes down to pricing, globalization and the eternal “regional and expensive vs. cheap and unsafe” debate. According to German media, China grew to become Germany’s biggest provider of strawberries despite the fact that Poland is a major exporter of the fruit, since Chinese prices beat that of Germany’s direct neighbour by €0.3 p/kg. In the meantime, the German company which supplied the strawberries has offered €50 book-vouchers and free private lessons to those children effected (because what do sick children want more than books and schoolwork?)