July 16, 2013
Mashrakh, Bihar, India
23 students between the ages of 4 to 12 died after ingesting tainted lunch at their primary school
The school had 89 students registered, and most were affected by the poisoned food which was part of a free meals program designed to ensure children received proper nutrition. The program, Midday Meal Scheme, provides meals for approximately 120 million children across India making it the largest school lunch program in the world. However, the state of Bihar is one of the nation’s poorest and had previously received tainted food from the program. In addition, the area had underfunded hospitals and contaminated water supplies.
On July 16, 2013, the school cook, who was also hospitalized, brought to the headmistress’ attention the cooking oil smelled strange and was discolored. He later told reporters there was “an accumulation of residual waste at the bottom” of the oil jar. The headmistress dismissed the cook’s concern and told him it was safe to use. When the children complained their food tasted off, the headmistress scolded them, and the children continued eating.
Within 30 minutes the children began vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. The hospital and school became overwhelmed with sick children and some were sent home for their parents to treat. Twenty-three children died from the poisoning, some while at the school and others at the hospital. The headmistress and her husband fled but were arrested within days. Headmistress Meena Kumari was sentenced to 17 years in prison on August 29, 2016.