Free breakfasts from Putin: why children are poisoned en masse in Russian schools

Mass poisoning of schoolchildren swept across the country. The last cases were recorded in Dagestan, Smolensk region, Moscow region. But, of course, the Krasnoyarsk Territory thundered loudest.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been three cases of mass poisoning of children with school meals, the largest outbreak in Krasnoyarsk, where more than 100 children from 27 schools in the city have suffered. The scandal reached the highest cabinets of the country – Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on March 15 called this unacceptable, demanding that the governors pay close attention to the issue of nutrition.

Emotions of the prime minister can be understood – the federal authorities expected any effect from the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin to make meals for elementary schools free, but not mass poisonings.

From Putin’s decision to poisoning

President Vladimir Putin on January 15, 2020, during his annual address to the Federal Assembly, ordered to provide primary school students with free hot meals. He stressed that the country needs to create the necessary infrastructure, equip canteens, and provide them with quality products. He suggested starting from September 1, 2020 only in those regions that are ready for this, in the rest – until September 1, 2023. But later they decided to feed in all schools where there is such an opportunity. A corresponding law was adopted, which we examined in detail – to whom, in which regions and what kind of food is required.

Already in February, the Krasnoyarsk mayor’s office reported that everything would be ready by September 1. She promised to create a special commission that will deal with the preparation. It was planned to include officials of the mayor’s office, deputies of the city council and public figures in it, who were to assess the state of the catering units in all schools, calculate the capacity of canteens, the staff of cooks, and funding.

As a result, all these issues, coupled with pandemic downtime, when grocery kits were delivered to children for remote work instead of hot meals, in 2020 put the final end to the plant – the mayor’s office decided to replace it with a municipal customer institution and private suppliers. Then the Power Center appeared, and three private suppliers – Razvitie LLC, Rich LLC and Kulinar LLC – were selected through auctions. Already they began to feed the children according to the new scheme after leaving the distance.

Mass poisoning

The first message about poisoning came from the Solnechny microdistrict at the end of February 2021. At first, it was about several dozen children from several schools, but the geography and scale grew rapidly. The situation froze on 115 poisoned children from 27 schools in the Soviet and Oktyabrsky districts of the city. All have been diagnosed with yersiniosis, an acute intestinal infection most commonly transmitted by rodents. The children complained of fever, abdominal pain, intestinal upset, and rash.

Rospotrebnadzor found the pathogen in samples of ready-made salads and washes from packaging, equipment and inventory. The food supplier in all cases was Razvitie LLC, one of three private companies that feed the city’s schools on municipal orders. Two other private enterprises supplying Razvitie with vegetables for school meals, LLC Respect and SEC Alenushka, were also brought to justice. Many violations were found in their warehouses, including mice – carriers of yersiniosis infection. All three enterprises were closed and tons of products were seized. The head of Respect LLC, Elena Bezrukikh, was detained.

The municipal “Nutrition Center”, directly responsible for the organization of school meals, for its part also carried out an inspection. And he had questions not only to “Development”, but also to two other food suppliers – “Rich” and “Kulinar”. In total, 32 gross violations were identified: no labeling, delays were found, frozen ready meals, violations of personal hygiene rules, disinfectants with a violation of the expiration date were found. The center also noted the insufficient staffing of companies with personnel of the required qualifications – cooks and waiters.

Mass poisoning – Zheleznogorsk

This mass poisoning was not the only one in 2021 in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. The first happened on February 2 at the Zheleznogorsk School of Cosmonautics (a boarding school for gifted children. – Ed. ) Near Krasnoyarsk. Then 30 children came to the first-aid post with complaints of diarrhea, nausea and a temperature of 37.5 degrees. During the check, staphylococcus was found in the complex lunch – the children should not have eaten a green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, cabbage soup and horns.

Less than two months later, a second mass poisoning occurred at the School of Astronautics. On March 12, 17 high school students from 15 to 17 years old complained of poor health, three were hospitalized. The Investigative Committee began to check.

Both times, the supplier of dangerous food to the School of Cosmonautics was no longer private traders, but the regional state budgetary institution “Nutrition Center”, which has been operating for many years. Unlike the Krasnoyarsk poisoning, the scale of the Zheleznogorsk scandal, of course, was much smaller, so there was no media hype or any serious sanctions against anyone there.

Who should feed the children

On the other hand, the Krasnoyarsk scandal immediately sparked a global discussion of options for the optimal organization of the schoolchildren’s nutrition plan. In fact, there are not many of them – of those that are common in Russia, there are only three:

  1. The whole process is closed to a single municipal school feeding complex , which itself feeds most of the schools. This was the case in Krasnoyarsk until last year. In the region now, in fact, the regional state institution “Nutrition Center”, which appeared in the Zheleznogorsk poisoning scandals, operates in a similar way.
  2. The municipal institution-customer only organizes the process and controls it , while the private firms that won the tenders directly feed the children . This scheme is now working with the municipal “Power Center”, and it was in it that the main failure occurred.
  3. The process is closed to the schools themselves : they order food, prepare full-time chefs. Nine schools operate in this way in Krasnoyarsk. In Soviet times, this was a common practice, so now many parents, recalling their personal experience, are in favor of this option.

Each of the schemes found its supporters and opponents. City Council deputies suggested that the mayor revive the plant, which did not persecute children, as private traders are now persecuting. Governor Alexander Uss also spoke in favor of this idea, relying on the regional example – it is easier to control the supplier this way. The mayor of the city, Sergei Eremin, is confident that the plant is dead and will not come to life, and time dictates new approaches with outsourcing from private companies – the question is simply in debugging the process, and at the start it is always difficult. Parents in social networks and the media demand that schools have their own canteens – this excludes mass poisoning, only local ones are possible (and, for example, our audience supports this idea).

And if examples of the work of the first and second options – with a state / municipal customer or the same supplier – are now in plain sight due to poisoning in Krasnoyarsk and Zheleznogorsk, then the quality of the work of your own canteen is difficult to assess.

Responsible, so for your own

The NGS24.RU editorial board ended up in one of the nine educational institutions of Krasnoyarsk, where it operates its own catering unit. From September 1, 2020, Lyceum No. 9 separated from the “generally accepted” food system and began to feed the children on its own responsibility. We hired an accountant, more cooks, a purchasing specialist, found suppliers and adjusted their school meals system all in the same canteen – no private suppliers, no new areas and kitchens. The answer to the question “why” sounds categorical.

– Before that we were served by a private entrepreneur. We did not know anything about where he gets the products, how fresh they are, what he brings. And I decided – to answer, so for my own! For their own mistakes or victories. I submitted an application to the administration, there was a commission, and we were allowed to organize work in the canteen on our own. I now have my own staff in the kitchen, which I myself can check, – says the director of the lyceum Irina Osetrova.

The principle of nutrition is built according to the format of a cyclical menu, where breakfasts and lunches are repeated every 10 days. Everything is according to the standards of Rospotrebnadzor – vitamins and calories in balance. There is a document where all the ingredients for every day are clearly described. The task of the responsible persons is to ensure the uninterrupted supply of quality products. Parental control is also present.

– We have proven suppliers – they have been on the market for a long time, we carefully study each one before concluding a supply contract. Delivery of perishable products – 3 times a week. That is, the milk that goes into porridge is brought to us by 7 in the morning. Everything is as fresh as possible. Vegetables are brought in almost every day. According to the new standards, sausage is completely excluded from the menu, – explained the head of the lyceum canteen.

Also, by 7 in the morning, fresh bread is brought to the walls of the school, fresh pastries are already coming up in the oven by this time – buns and pies that children love (and really tasty, we tried).

They let us into the kitchen – they said there was nothing to hide. Here the chef forms cutlets and puts them on the scales, and here salads are already cut – the time is approaching for dinner. They show food storage – small rooms, but, they say, more is not needed. Anyway, nothing is stored for a long time.

According to the school administration, the supplier of fruits and vegetables brings in a little, but at the first call. Fruits and vegetables are on the menu almost every day – and everything should be fresh. Before that, they say, such products were brought twice a week, and when the time came to put them on the table, they could go bad.

The lyceum also implemented a scheme with parental control, which was so demanded by both Mishustin and Uss. Here, any parent on any day, having come for a child, can try school food and leave a review on various points in a special checklist. Three parents, according to those contacts from the checklists that were provided to us in the cafeteria, were satisfied with the food.

A member of the Council of Fathers, Sergei Vasilyevich, brings two children (5th and 6th grades) to school every morning, and tries food there three times a week.

– I fully support the idea of ​​self-contained food, I can go straight to the kitchen, see the chef, look him in the eyes, say what I don’t like – overcooked, salted. And not as before, you hear from them: “They brought it to us, what can we do?” I like the fact that you can express your opinion on each dish, and no one will shift responsibility. My children really like food, – said Sergey.

One of the mothers, Tatiana, noted a slight flaw.

– My parents and I noticed that it happens that at dinner they take out the first and second courses at the same time, and while the child is eating the soup, the second can cool down. And there are cooled macaroni and cheese, you know, not ice. They met us halfway, without question it was all solved, and now the dishes are served gradually, – said Tatiana.

There is no difference in the schemes?

Igor Bolbat, head of the regional department of the Association of Consumers of Russia, is sure that, in fact, all food schemes are not very different from each other.

– In each Krasnoyarsk school today they cook separately! They bring potatoes, carrots, meat to schools – they all throw them into a saucepan and boil them. We, thank God, do not have “flight food”, as in Moscow. They take a bag, bring it to school, warm up and feed the children. We have a normal soup! Everything that is centralized in Krasnoyarsk is the supply of ready-to-cook products, since the school does not have shops for peeling the same potatoes. And they cook separately everywhere.

And the food organizer who suffered from yersiniosis did not have his own workshop and kitchen factory. They signed contracts for the supply, and already the suppliers were transporting food to schools. Therefore, it is strange to think that if the school itself feeds, then they are insured against poisoning – most likely, the same suppliers supply them with food. They, most likely, supply food to kindergartens and supermarkets. You have to understand that the same potatoes in Krasnoyarsk are peeled by one or two enterprises, in the same way with carrots, – explains Bolbat.

He does not think that the catering scheme guarantees safety or quality, and Sergey Uglov, vice-president of the Institute of Industry Nutrition, does not.

– Practice shows that poisoning can and does occur regardless of the form of food organization. It depends on how this food is organized. Which is better – a full-time school canteen or a catering operator, must be decided, of course, taking into account the opinion of the parents, the founder of the educational organization.

Where is it easier to control? The opinion of the specialists is with the food operator, who has a material base and production control. In this case, all products and raw materials undergo periodic laboratory control at the food operator’s warehouse, and only then the complete rations are delivered to the school food units. To do this, the company’s staff must be sanitary and veterinarians, merchandise experts or technologists. This is how they work in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Yaroslavl, Volgograd regions.

When organizing meals by regular canteens, as practice shows, the products of suppliers are accepted by the head of production or by the chef with a purely visual examination, without laboratory control, which increases the risks of poisoning, says Uglov.

It is in the poorly built system of quality control and safety of school meals that the expert sees as the cause of the mass poisonings that happened in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. He came to this conclusion after three days of work as part of a group of experts from the Institute and the Industry Union for the Development of Social Nutrition in Krasnoyarsk.

– Our task was, first of all, to prepare proposals for the creation of an interdepartmental system for monitoring the quality and safety of school meals in general and the safety of products received for this in particular. So far, there is no such interaction, which was the main reason for the emergency. After all, look, vegetables infected with rodents should not have been allowed for cooking even at the stage of checking the storage conditions and laboratory analysis of products when leaving the store (Rosselkhoznadzor, Rospotrebnadzor, vegetable producer). Plus, knowing that vegetables will go to school meals, the company – the organizer of the meals and UIA “Power Center” as a customer should have joined this list.

The cases that happened in Zheleznogorsk show that such a problem exists not only in a single municipality, but throughout the country . But even six months ago, the Ministry of Education of Russia ordered each subject to have a regional standard for organizing school meals, which defines the requirements for the quality and safety of food, the powers of the departments concerned, and the organizational and financial aspects of food. And this work has already been done by many constituent entities of the Russian Federation, – says Uglov.

According to Uglov, now the question should not be about the power supply scheme, but about a competently built control system for it. In addition to interdepartmental control, parental control is definitely needed, it is necessary to establish a register of bona fide manufacturers in the region, which could be additionally checked. The Regional Ministry of Agriculture has already assured visiting experts that it is ready to subsidize laboratory control. And the registers were asked to create by Mishustin himself at a government meeting.

We are waiting for changes

The cost of food does not cause much discussion either – everyone, from the mayor to the last expert, is sure that not enough funds are allocated for hot food for schoolchildren. Although the authorities reported that the country received 22 billion rubles for this.

– I asked the region to support us, so that we establish a sane food supplement. It’s not that if you don’t have enough money for porridge, you won’t work. You will twist on something. When there is no financial solvency, you at least put someone – even a private trader, even a municipal, it will also bend, – Sergey Eremin said at a meeting with the City Council.

After the poisoning in Krasnoyarsk, this question was raised by the vice-president of the Institute of Industry Nutrition, Sergey Uglov, at the interdepartmental working group. He believes that regional co-financing of school meals in the city is now insufficient. Federal funds and what the region gives are enough only for part of the costs, which forces us to save on food.

– I will give an example, now in Krasnoyarsk about 54 budget rubles are spent on one free breakfast – 48 rubles from the federal budget and 13% of the regional allowance. At the same time, a grocery set costs more than 55 rubles. And practice shows that for the normal functioning of the supplier organization, the ratio of the cost of a food set and the cost of food (salary, inventory and overalls, medical examinations, etc.) is 60/40. That is, the cost of food through outsourcing should be at least 80 rubles. The difference should be covered by the municipality through savings from food outsourcing, – calculates Angles.

Krasnoyarsk now has enough funds just for food, and the municipality, of course, is not able to add the required amount from above for related expenses. If the school has its own catering unit, then the school is still able to somehow work for this amount. In the case of outsourcing, you have to either feed with cheap products, or underreport. That is why Eremin asked at the city council at the edge of help – to increase the same markup from 13%.

According to the public procurement website, in Krasnoyarsk, outsourcing firms are paid 55 rubles for breakfasts, 82 rubles for lunch, and 41 rubles for afternoon tea.

According to the expert, the situation is further aggravated by the method of choosing a company for outsourcing.

– Probably, there is a need to amend the law on public procurement (44-FZ). It is necessary, firstly, to prohibit bidding for baby food in the form of auctions, where the winner is the one who offered the lowest price. And competitions with limited participation, allowing at the selection stage to weed out non-core companies, to be carried out with the determination of the winner only by assessing quality indicators, such as the suitability of the proposed menu, the qualifications of personnel, the volume of laboratory research, the presence of positive experience in the field and material and technical base, excluding even the very possibility of reducing the subsidies allocated by the state for school meals. I think the time has come to make such decisions, – Uglov is sure.

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