Over one hundred pupils aged between six and 12 in Banteay Meanchey province simultaneously contracted food poisoning on Friday, after eating packed rice donated by Korean missionaries.
Of the 142 pupils from Poy Samrong primary school in Preah Netr Preah district’s Preah Netr Preah commune who contracted food poisoning, 12 are still receiving medical treatment at the district referral hospital.
District deputy police chief Heth Chhunhai told The Post on Sunday that the cause of the outbreak was a donation of rice by Korean students visiting as missionaries.
“Korean Christian missionaries visited the children and they offered them rice. Immediately after eating the rice, the children were taken to hospital as they became dehydrated and weak as they were vomiting and had diarrhoea,” he said.
Chhunhai continued that authorities sent the food to a laboratory, concluding that vegetables in the rice carried chemicals that made the children ill.
The missionaries said they bought the food in the province’s Sisophon town and cooked it themselves. Authorities questioned the missionaries but did not detain them, allowing them to return to Korea.
Poy Samrong primary school director Vath Vong could not be reached for comment, but he earlier confirmed to a local online media outlet that the Korean students visited the school to promote the Christian faith.
“They played games with children in addition to distributing candy, rice, drinking water and T-shirts,” he said.
In 2017, over 300 people in Pursat province’s Phnom Kravanh district were hospitalised after eating contaminated food at an event. Similarly, in November last year over 50 students at a primary school in Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district was sent to the hospital after eating contaminated food at school.
Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Sum Chankea, said authorities seem incapable of preventing incidents of mass food poisoning.
He expressed worry that such incidents will continue with greater frequency in future and stressed that government officials are responsible for preventing the problem.
“They only put effort into preventing it once the problem has already happened, but before it has happened they pay very little attention to it. The assistance they are offering at the moment is a good thing, but the attention should be given before it happens,” he said.
A Ministry of Health report said that between 2015 and 2017, 47 people died of food poisoning in the Kingdom. Another 3,777 reported suffering serious incidents of food poisoning.