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Managers Go to Prison for Food Poisoning of Students

An Egyptian court has sentenced the head of Al-Azhar University’s dormitory and the campus kitchen manager to 10 years each in jail over charges related to the food poisoning of hundreds of students last April.

Dormitories chief, Mohamed Hassan Salah, and the head of the university’s kitchen nutrition department, Mohamed Reda, along with ten other cooks were found guilty of poisoning students in two incidents in April.

The defendants were given five years each for the two separate incidents. In the same case, eight other chefs were handed one-month prison sentences. Over 500 students in the first poisoning on April 1 at a dorm cafeteria were diagnosed with food poisoning, and in less than a month, another 179 were hospitalized.

Students in both incidents were infected with salmonella bacteria. Lab results revealed after the second mass poisoning that dirty cutlery was responsible.

The court’s judge, Chancellor Ahmad Magdy based his verdict on the grounds that the dormitory manager failed to do his job as a supervisor to keep up sanitation standards.

Such negligence, the court found, led the kitchen manager to allow one of the cooks to keep working while he had a hand injury, which passed microbes on to the students, since he and other cooks did not use gloves.

Mohamed Hamza, one of the poisoned students said that he ate chicken and vegetables at lunch and 30 minutes after lunch he had a stomach ache and acute diarrhea along with a fever. Some others were repeatedly vomiting.

“I had diarrhea from the dorm food before,” he said, “but I thought it was due to the nervous colon I have, but when I saw many colleagues had it so seriously this time, I realized we are all poisoned”

Mohamed and many of his colleagues were referred to the state hospital, Al-Hussain, where they were hospitalized for a couple of days until they recovered.

“I thought it is an exceptional incident, “said Ali Othman, another student in Commerce College, “but when it happened the second time in such short time, I found out there is something wrong.”

“At this point,” Othaman says, “I joined some scores of students and stormed into the kitchen to check the food, but since we are not specialists, we could not find evidence that food is expired or bad.”

Islam Raof, a student in the languages and translation department, said he ate occasionally at the dorm kitchen, and although he didn’t get sick, the food was low quality and badly cooked.

Shortly after the first incident, the armed forces provided the university with a new kitchen, but this did not prevent the other mass poisoning.  After that, a medical committee investigated the two incidents, and the committee concluded that cooks had passed microbes on to students.

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, ordered investigations into the incidents, while students gathered to protest the university food, and called for sacking the university president.

The university administration says it has taken steps to prevent food poisoning from occurring again and to improve food sanitation and quality.

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