News of a mass food poisoning incident has been suppressed by local authorities in Benxi city, Liaoning Province for more than half a month after thousands of students and teachers got sick from eating school lunches.
The Benxi Education Bureau only made an announcement on the afternoon of Sept. 9, stating that some students in Benxi 12th Middle School experienced gastrointestinal discomfort after eating lunch. The food was catered and delivered by Benxi Zhanpeng Catering and Distribution Co., Ltd.
Some students went to the hospital for treatment but no one was hospitalized overnight. The official notification also stated that “an investigation team should be established to conduct an in-depth, detailed and comprehensive investigation [into the matter], and the specific reasons are under investigation.”
However, a video circulating on the internet showed that an outpatient ward was full of students being put on IV. Some of the students were wearing school uniforms. At that time, there were at least eight students on IV in the ward.
The insiders in the city revealed to The Epoch Times that the food poisoning incident did not just take place in Benxi 12th Middle School, which is the largest middle school in the area, with nearly 4,000 students. It also happened in Benxi 14th Middle School which has about 3,000 students. All the people who ate the meals delivered by the same catering company experienced food poisoning, including class counselors and teachers.
The meals in many elementary and middle schools in Benxi are also provided by Zhanpeng Catering and Distribution Company. Insider sources disclosed that these schools include Benxi 12th Middle School, City Experimental Middle School (14th Middle School), Benxi 16th Middle School, Dongsheng Elementary School, and Normal University’s Elementary School and others.
Local Government and School Officials Designated Single Food Provider for School Meals
Many believe that the reason for such a large scale food poisoning is the decisions made by the Education Bureau of Liaoning Province and Benxi Municipal government regarding school meals since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Education Bureau decided to lock down the campus, prohibit students from leaving the school, and also prohibit students from ordering meals at nearby small school food suppliers. In Benxi city, students in all the schools have ordered “group catering and delivery” in accordance with the instructions of the city government.
Insiders in the city revealed that the school started for the third year students in junior high in April 2020, and the first and second year students started in June.
The ordering of group catering was made mandatory from the beginning of the pandemic. Previously, the teachers in each class decided where to order meals for their classes, and were not pressured by the schools’ authorities. Then the schools designated the catering company Zhanpeng Catering and Delivery Company as the single supplier for school meals, claiming the decision was made by “parent representatives” after “inspection.” But many questioned whether the decision was fair and just, and felt the process was not transparent.
Zhanpeng allegedly passed a food inspection on June 18. According to the Food Safety Supervision Sampling Inspection Information Announcement of the Market Supervision Administration of Benxi city (No. 02, 2020), Zhanpeng’s inspection test result was “qualified/pass.”
According to the Chinese corporate information website Tianyancha, Zhanpeng Catering and Distribution Company was established on Aug. 14, 2019. But insiders in the city reported that this company’s location was supposed to be near the 12th Middle School, but no one had ever seen the actual site.
For several months, there have been feedback from students about problems with the meals supplied by Zhanpeng, such as finding hair and other foreign objects in the food; the leftovers from lunch were taken back and redelivered as dinner or the next day’s lunch; and sometimes students don’t have enough to eat. The teachers have also reported the issues many times, but the school leadership has ignored the complaints.
Students complained on Chinese social media.
“Zhanpeng food is expensive and terrible.”
“I had meals provided by Zhanpeng’s catering during the pandemic. … Some of the dishes turned sour. There is no good meat in meat dishes, they are all deep-fried frozen products and synthetic meat. Many students have found hair and bugs in the food. I found hair in my meal and it’s so disgusting.”
Netizens reported that Zhanpeng’s spoiled “nutritious meals” were fed to the students.
Besides the short announcement on Sept. 7, regarding the mass food poisoning, no official statement or explanation has been given, and official media did not report on the incident.
However, students have started calling the public’s attention to their situation. Some wrote on Weibo, “A mass food poisoning incident occurred in the 12th Middle School in Benxi city, Liaoning Province. The food provided by the catering company was spoiled, and the students collectively had diarrhea and could not go to class. The preliminary test result was a bacterial infection. The same catering company also provides meals to other schools. Please give attention to this matter.”
Some netizens also expressed their views about Zhanpeng.
“Zhanpeng’s food was “tasteless.”
“A large amount of unpalatable food was wasted.”
“The students who had previously disliked Zhanpeng meals were criticized by the school, and their food quality has never improved. The large number of students falling ill with diarrhea this time was not a surprise.”
“I hope Zhanpeng can give a reasonable explanation.”
According to insiders, there are three tiered prices for the group catering meals, namely 15 yuan, 20 yuan, and 25 yuan. Since the prices of goods in Benxi are low, everyone feels that they are quite expensive and think that the quality of the meals are not good and are not worth the price.
Students Being Silenced and Threatened
Insiders revealed that after the incident, Liu Xiyan, the principal of the the 12th Middle School, held four urgent meetings the next day, asking the teachers to cooperate with the local authorities to suppress and cover up the incident, and to implement this “stability maintenance” task.
Many posts regarding the food poisoning incident on social media have been deleted. The insider said that what is more serious is that some students who posted messages online were tracked down by internet police who coerced the students to delete their Weibo posts. The police said that it was their boss who ordered them to do so.
A recording provided by the insider to The Epoch Times revealed that the internet police traced the students’ locations through the phone number registered with the Weibo account in its server. They intimidated the students, saying that they were backed by the public security bureau. They also threatened students and their parents to come to the police station by themselves, otherwise the police would go to their homes to get them.
As news of the mass food poisoning incident was blocked on Weibo, the victims hope to post the news on platforms outside China such as Twitter, which will attract more attention.
Various CCP Departments Shirk Responsibilities
Some food poisoning victims vented their frustration on Chinese social media over authorities’ lack of response.
“Half a month, what about my medical expenses, hospital expenses, and mental health expenses? Who should pay it? Has the boss of Zhanpeng been arrested? Can there be any progress?”’
“Can your investigation find out anything? What is the reason? What is the poison? Is it over? I just came back from the hospital. It has been half a month, and it hurts so much that I have to go to the hospital again!!! My stomach is damaged and my intestines are damaged too!”
A few days ago, The Epoch Times reporter called the Benxi Education Bureau to inquire about the progress of the investigation. The various departments just tried to pass the buck without giving any explanation.
The staff of Mingshan District Education Bureau affiliated to the 12th Middle School directed inquiries to the Municipal Education Bureau.
When the reporter called the Municipal Education Bureau and asked about the food poisoning incident, the staff said that the Security Department and the Sports and Health Office of the Education Bureau “are in charge of (this matter) … I don’t know if the investigation has been conducted.”
The reporter contacted the Security Department during working hours, but no one answered the call.
When the reporter called the Sports and Health Office, the staff member said, “I cannot explain this matter. … I don’t know anything about this, and I haven’t seen this report. You can find it in the office. I don’t know who is in charge.” He told the reporter to go directly to the municipal bureau and speak with the people in charge.
Insider sources said that although the school has changed the lunch catering provider, the student victims requested an explanation and reimbursement for their medical expenses due to food poisoning.
The insider appealed, “I hope that the authorities will thoroughly investigate the incident and give an explanation. What else can be done to help these children? Who is responsible for the health of the children?”
Luo Ya and Li Xin’an contributed to the report.