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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Hong Kong school meals supplier to halt service for 2 days amid food safety fears

Hong Kong school meals supplier to halt service for 2 days amid food safety fears

Luncheon Star, a subsidiary of fast food chain Café de Coral, supplies 100,000 lunchboxes every day to more than 200 primary and secondary schools.

A major supplier of school lunchboxes at the centre of food safety fears will not serve students on Monday and Tuesday next week to allow a review and deep cleansing of its production line in Hong Kong.

Affected schools could switch back to half-day face-to-face classes as a last resort for the two days, the Education Bureau said.

At the centre of the saga is Luncheon Star, a subsidiary of fast food chain Café de Coral, which supplies 100,000 lunchboxes every day to more than 200 local primary and secondary schools.

In a statement on Thursday, Luncheon Star said the decision was prompted after receiving reports in recent days from “some individual schools” about students falling ill after eating lunchboxes it had supplied.

The company will review its production procedures.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the scale of the problem or the number of complaints it had received.

Luncheon Star said it would suspend the supply of lunches to schools on February 20 and 21 and apologised to affected pupils, their parents and schools.

“Café de Coral Group attaches much importance to the incidents. Students’ health is always our top priority,” the company said.

“Our team will conduct a thorough review of the production procedure and strengthen the connection of various production steps. At the same time, we shall also do a deep cleansing to ensure the hygiene of the facilities.”

Food samples had also been sent for testing, pending results, the company said.

Education sector lawmaker Chu Kwok-keung said he believed schools would still have time to work out contingency plans.

“Parents can prepare lunch for their children for the two days. Or schools can also buy lunch for students from outside or prepare more snacks for students,” he said.

Citing the bureau’s notice on Thursday, Chu said that if no alternative supplier could be found in time, affected schools could switch back to half-day face-to-face lessons with students taking online classes in the afternoon.

“If it really lasts for two days, there should not be a big problem for schools,” Chu said.

He said in general most primary schools would not allow pupils to eat lunch outside, and even for secondary schools, some would ask students to stay on campus.

Blunders started emerging last week as more schools resumed whole-day face-to-face classes after the easing of Covid-19 measures.

Some schools complained about late delivery of lunches, reportedly for up to an hour in some cases. There were also complaints the food supplied did not seem to have been properly cooked.

In its statement, Luncheon Star admitted manpower shortages were partly to blame, as quite a number of workers had switched jobs during the pandemic, when in-person full-day classes were suspended for most of the time.

“With the resumption of full-day classes, we are to supply some 100,000 lunchboxes to schools every day, some three or four times the amount before the full resumption of classes,” the company said, adding it was already recruiting more staff and transferring workers from other sections to help.

In response to Post inquiries, the bureau said: “We have noted the [no lunch] incident and are aware that affected schools are working out their contingency plans in accordance with the practical needs of the schools.

“The bureau is keeping an eye on the development of the issue and has asked schools to keep parents and other stakeholders posted.”

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department told the Post it had inspected 15 food factories of providers of school lunch services since February 13. Samples have been taken for testing and results are not yet available.

On Luncheon Star, the department said officers had inspected the company’s food factories in Sha Tin and Yuen Long on Wednesday and Thursday. Eleven food and 25 environmental samples were collected for testing.

Prosecution was being instituted over “improper situations” regarding maintenance and repairs found inside the Yuen Long factory. The department also said it had instructed the officer-in-charge at the factory to make improvements and pay attention to food safety, and personal and environmental hygiene.

Earlier this week, the Centre for Food Safety and the department said they had stepped up inspections of factories supplying school lunchboxes.
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