Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Free School Lunch in India Kills 25 so Far

One of the poisoned children is rushed to the hospital in Patma, India.

One of the poisoned children is rushed to the hospital in Patma, India.

Gross school lunches are responsible for snarky terms like “mystery meat” and “murder burgers” finding their way in the English language, but all jokes aside, a recent free school lunch served in India was so bad that 22 so far have died from eating it — including the cook.

India’s  free lunch program, called The Mid-Day Meal, was started in Madras in 1925 for the poor, but now aims to boost school attendance and fight hunger. The Mid-Day Meal  is the world’s largest school-lunch program, feeding 20 million children each day. The program has been dogged by complaints of poor hygiene, but doctors aren’t calling this food poisoning, they are saying that the food was poisoned.

The poisoning occurred in the village of Dharmasati Gandaman, which is some 50 miles north of the state’s capital, Patna. After the school lunch served July 15, 2013, 47 elementary-school-aged children became ill. Of the 47 ill, 28 were hospitalized and 22 of those died so far.

The families of the dead children received financial compensation equaling about $3,370 for each dead child, but they are angry none-the-less, protesting in the street and setting at least four police cruisers on fire.

Investigation has revealed that the food contained traces of phosphate. According to PK Shahi, the state’s education minister, “The doctors who have attended are of the tentative opinion that the smell coming out of the bodies of the children suggests that the food contained organo-phosphorus, which is a poisonous substance,” and is often found in pesticides. “Now the investigators have to find out whether organo-phosphorus was accidental or there was some deliberate mischief,” Shahi added.

Exactly which part of the meal contained the poison is still being debated, but authorities have suggested that the rice, vegetable, or perhaps the vegetable oil used in cooking was tainted.

Some of the critically ill children are under the age of 12, so we may see the death toll rise in this case.

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