In the land of bad stomachs: 2017 was the year of public food poisoning in Turkey

In the land of bad stomachs: 2017 was the year of public food poisoning in Turkey

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In 2017 the numbers of food poisoning cases all over Turkey was unprecedented high. In tens of cases which have occurred throughout the year particularly in secondary schools, Quran courses, universities, dormitories and military barracks, as well as workplaces, factories and constructions sites, thousands have been poisoned by the food they have eaten in canteens. What connects all these cases is that for the sake of lowering the costs of institutional catering, subcontracting has become a general trend, where products are of low quality and no control mechanism is in place.

Among the variety of places, the most unusual scene of poisonings were military camps. Since May 2017, 2.111 soldiers have been poisoned in 9 different military installations, including the cities Manisa, Diyarbakır, Kastamonu, Marmaris, Sivas, Bursa and lastly Gaziantep. Only in the barracks of Manisa, a western town near Izmir, in May and June, 4 separate poisoning cases occurred. In the first case, which occurred at the Manisa 1st Infantry Brigade Command 1.049 soldiers got poisoned and Private Hüsnü Özel died. In his initial declaration The Manisa governor stated that a food poisoning is out of question; some soldiers had seasonal flu and others were psychologically affected by them. However the test results proved him wrong. Following two incidents in different military settings in the city where more than 130 soldiers were affected, on June 17, 731 soldiers were hospitalized, again in the barracks where the first incident had occurred. According to food engineers, witnessing 4 mass poisoning incidents at the same place within a month, which caused the hospitalization of thousands and even the death of one, is a very exceptional situation. The recent report of the Public Health Institution about the Manisa case states that the turkey-dish, that caused the illness was kept 27 hours at room temperature after being defrosted.

Similarly, in June and August in different organized industrial zones in Adıyaman and Ankara dozens of workers were hospitalized during their night shifts because of the meal they’ve eaten at the canteens. One private security guard lost his life. On December 2017, on a huge construction site belonging to TOKI (Housing Development Administration of Turkey) in Kastamonu-İhsangazi, 53 workers fell sich with food poisoning. On December 12, 473 students of the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in Rize, the hometown of the Turkish President, got hospitalized after having eaten dinner at the campus canteen. Although the initial results of microbiological analyses of the food samples indicated that there was nothing wrong with the meal, it soon became known that samples were not properly taken, since in fact nothing was left of the actual meal served to the students for dinner. On the very same day, 40 students at the Kocaeli Üniversitesi made the same experience at the university canteen.  

All the incidents took place in facilities belonging to the state or at least being under state supervision. Nevertheless no effective measures seem to have been taken by the government. The catering firm Rota which was responsible for the poisoning incident in Manisa, continued to distribute food in various Turkish big cities to state bureaus, military facilities, hospitals, factories, universities and airlines. In June, a motion by MP Yıldız Tur Biçer, from the oppositional CHP to investigate Rota was rejected with the votes of the AKP majority. Only recently, after the report of the Manisa case was published the firm was banned from entering public bids for one year by the Ministry of Finance. Last week it also came out that in 2015, a catering firm called Pınarsan provided more than 4 tons of horse-meat for the military to be consumed in barrack canteens. Following the disclosure of this “horse-meat scandal”, the Ministry of National Defense declared that from now on all catering related purchase for military facilities will be done by public institutions. 

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