File photo: David Ritchie / African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The Mpumalanga provincial education department on Monday said it found no evidence of poisoned food after meals offered at the school were subjected to testing following the death of two learners on July 31. 

"Based on the samples taken from the food that is supplied by the school, there were no micro-organisms (germs) that could be linked to the food borne illness," said provincial MEC Bonakele Majuba, who announced the outcome of an investigation by the health department and the local municipality. 

"This means that the food from the school was safe to be consumed by the beneficiaries. Learners can henceforth receive feeding."

Last month, two children from the Nelson Ngobeni Primary School in Emalahleni died and 11 others were hospitalised in a case of suspected food contamination after showing signs and symptoms related to food borne illness, such as stomach cramps and vomiting.

The education department then announced that the department of health would conduct an investigation into the matter, and the National School Nutrition Programme was immediately suspended until the results of the probe were received. 

Majuba said the health department took clinical samples from ill learners and environmental health samples as part of the probe.

He said they also interviewed affected learners and roleplayers, and inspected areas where learners buy snacks, and took samples of snacks such as popcorn, for testing.

Majuba said the police investigation on the snacks bought by learners in different tuck shops outside the school was ongoing. 

He said that while it was considered that the school's nutrition programme was safe, the investigation team recommended measures such as strengthening the school's housekeeping processes in the kitchen and replacing old cooking equipment, intensifying hygiene, training of food handlers and vendors, and others. 

The team also recommended the school remain on high alert for any learner presenting with similar signs and symptoms and report to the local health care facilities, while the environmental health practitioners will continue to support and monitor the school on safe food measures on regular basis.

"The department will continue to support the school, render psycho social support to learners and teachers. The department directs the School Governing Body to convene an urgent meeting of parents to inform them about this outcome," Majuba said.

"The department will work with all role players to ensure that a favourable environment is created at this school including the surrounding schools." 

African News Agency/ANA