Bhubaneswar, Sept. 2: Midday meal cooks and their helpers have been sent to school to do a crash course on how to improve food quality and ensure better hygiene.
In a bid to check frequent meal mishaps being reported from various schools, the state government has roped in the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, Bhubaneswar, to train the cooks and helpers.
Binodini, who cooks midday meal at a Mayurbhanj school, is among the 30 participants who completed the two-week training recently.
Elated to pick up multiple ways of cooking food varieties, Binodini said: “Since we come from a rural background, we had never heard of various kinds of dals apart from the arhar variety. They showed us many ways of preparing dalma (dal cooked with vegetables). We were taught how to prepare sambar, rajma and other south Indian dishes. If the students relish the food, we will be happy.”
This initiative by the school and mass education department envisages to train two persons — a cook and a helper — from each district. They are supposed to propagate the lessons in their respective areas. The target is to train 1.20 lakh cooks and helpers of 40,000 primary schools.
for a healthy and hygienic dish
Students carry their midday meal, the
Institute building in Bhubaneswar and students of a
primary school being served
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Aug. 31: Forty-three students suffer
diarrhoeal symptoms after consuming midday meal at Aska primary school
Aug. 28: Over a dozen kids fall sick at
a Jagatsinghpur upper primary school
as they eat curry that has dead
caterpillars in it
Aug. 3: Dead lizard found in rice at Regedi Primary School in Hinjili,
Ganjam. At same school, dead worm found in dal on July 26 and a lizard in soya curry on July 25. Food supplied by Nandi Foundation that prepares midday meal for various Ganjam schools
July 21: Insect found in dal at Tamaya Tank Road Primary School, Berhampur
July 19: Thirty-nine students of Dhenkanal upper primary school fall
sick after eating meal that has dead
scorpion in it
July 18: Twenty-five students of Bapuji Seva Sadan in Chandipur, Balasore, rushed to a Cuttack hospital after they had food and complained of stomach pain, vomiting. Chief district medical
officer Anup Ghose blamed unhygienic condition in kitchen and surrounding areas for possible food contamination
Aug. 29: Class II boy of
a Titilagarh school suffers burns waist-down after falling into tub of hot starch while jostling to collect midday meal
Aug. 26: Class III girl
dies of severe burn
injuries after falling into
hot tub of curry at Girishchandrapur Sevashram in Sambalpur while playing with her classmates
Feb. 22: Class III
student of a Khurda
primary school admitted
to hospital with 60 per
cent burn injuries after
hot starch falls on him
“The programme was planned in co-ordination with the tourism ministry under which the institute runs. The basic idea was to impart minimum professional skills to the cooks, so that they care for hygiene, taste and quality improvement of the food,” secretary of school and mass education Usha Padhee said.
Senior faculty of the institute Arya Panigrahi said the participants were being trained in hygiene practices — both personal and kitchen — and methods of cooking, menu planning besides proper communication and administering first aid in case of mishaps.
“The cooks have also been trained to prepare rice, dal and egg curry, including north Indian and south Indian cuisine. We have taught them how to find out if an egg is rotten or good, how to pick waste from rice with ease and select fresh vegetables and pulses,” Panigrahi said.
Cooks and helpers generally work from 9am to 2pm in schools for a paltry monthly remuneration of Rs 1,000-Rs 1,500. Moreover, they have limited access to facilities such asdrinking water, storage and cooking ingredients.
For every 25 students, there is one cook. The number of cooks increases depending on student strength. The students are served rice and dalma on Mondays and Thursdays, rice and soyabean curry on Tuesdays and Fridays, rice and egg curry on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“Cooking in schools is a highly responsible job. We toil for nearly five hours but get only Rs 1,000. We are denied minimum wages and receive payment only once in three or four months,” said Parvati Sahu, 45, cook-cum-helper at Fraser Girls’ School, Kendrapara. In many cases, schoolteachers end up doubling up as cooks.
“There are several schools with just one or two teachers. Academic activities suffer because of their preoccupation with midday meal work. The government should divest them from such work. Distribution of dry food is a viable alternative for cooked food,” said Harapriya Choudhury, a retired primary school teacher.
The crux of the meal-related discrepancy is because funds for the scheme are too less to ensure quality, calorie and nutrition, said retired school inspector Hemant Kumar Jena.
“Recently, the government revised the sum to Rs 3.79 for a primary student and Rs 5.65 for one upper primary student. How can you ensure quality with such a meagre amount,” he said. There are other concerns too — lack of kitchen sheds, toilets and drinking water facilities.
School and mass education minister Rabi Narayan Nanda has admitted that nearly 50 per cent of government schools in the state do not have cooking sheds. Further, as drinking water and toilets are not available or inaccessible, hygiene becomes secondary and the chances of midday meals becoming infected are higher.
“Sanitation and hygiene on school premises remain a challenge. Unless that is taken care of, training sessions for cooks and helpers will hardly improve the scenario. Schools must have also designated cooks, who are duly paid, and ensure that teachers are not involved in non-academic work,” said a teacher on condition of anonymity.