Mold and potentially toxic additives, dirt and fake foods. This is the scenario that emerges from the survey conducted by NAS in Italian school canteens and it shows a critical situation. There’s no mistake: our children are at risk of coming into contact with poisons and food whose provenience is dubious. It is a daily insult to public education and to taxpayers that occurs in dozens of Italian schools.
From the north to the south of Italy, according to the Report on the controls conducted during the school year 2015-2016, there are all sorts of bad substances, without sparing any region of the country. They range from fluorinated foods, which are not allowed by law, found on plates used to serve meals in the canteen of school in Milan, mold on kitchen walls in Alexandria. In Brescia, foods from traditional agriculture were passed off as organic, in Pescara local products were actually bought in food outlets, in Florence were found products whose quality was below that required in the tender dossier, such as extra virgin olive oil from EU, but not of national origin. The latter element is no small matter because the promised quality of the product are one of the criteria to win the right to provide meals.
Some cases are even more serious. In Ancona, for example, they gave expired food, sometimes even repackaged and relabeled with a new expiration date. Chicken haunches containing bone fragments, ham and omelets contaminated by listeria and staphylococci, expired yogurt, and moldy bread were found in Perugia. In Naples there was even a case of food poisoning in the canteens of several schools.
This survey was commissioned by Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin, after having received reports from some parents. It did not involve only “the quality of food” but also the choice of the products in relation to children’s age. Every stage of growth has precise energy requirements that must be met if we do not want to alter children’s and teens’ delicate natural balance. Thus, it turned out that a school in Palermo failed to adopt a nutritional dietary table for the part of the population that is in still in the pediatric age, which constitutes a violation of the directives received from the ministry.
“These data are alarming” – Lorenzin explained – and surprise inspections will continue, not only in schools, but also in aged care facilities. But, despite these reassurances, the report is worrying. As many as 37 cafés (one in the North, 7 in Central Italy, and nineteen in the South) have been closed. Besides, over 4,200 pounds of food were seized because it was improperly stored, spoilt, or without traceability and labeling. Around 101 people have been reported to the judicial authorities and 487 to the administrative ones, with 164 criminal fines and 764 administrative for 491,496 euros. In fact, the number of anomalies has not decreased despite the stricter checks in the last few years. In the first six months of 2016, in fact, 1,525 inspections led to the identification of 405 irregularities, whereas in 2014, 758 inspections found 179 anomalies.
The survey of the canteens conducted by NAS brings up the unresolved question of the management of public procurement. For the State (that is, for all of us) ensuring services to the citizens, awarding contracts to private companies, is a huge expense. When it happens on a regular basis, it is the duty of the administration to verify that the contract is respected. Yet, sometimes those who are supposed to check fall asleep and the craftiest, once they sign the contract, cut costs and provide poor food. We invest so much money, but our children are still at risk.