Hundreds of children hospitalized in ‘suspected’ food poisoning outbreak in Sohag
Photograph: Virginie Nguyen

Over 2,200 school children were admitted to hospital on Tuesday in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag following “suspicions” of mass food poisoning, according to a statement by Egypt’s Health Ministry.

All but 20 students were released from hospital after treatment as of Tuesday night.

The food poisoning incidents occurred in eight schools in the Sohag’s Akhmim district and cases were treated across four hospitals in the area, as well as in hospitals in the nearby governorate capital city of Sohag.

The ministry statement said symptoms exhibited by the children, including stomach ache and vomiting, have not yet been confirmed to be a result of food poisoning, adding that samples were taken from meals and drinking water at the schools and from food suppliers.

Health Ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed said in a televised statement on Tuesday that many cases were admitted “without symptoms … and were experiencing cases of panic,” asserting that any lapse in oversight of school meals will be penalized.

Megahed insisted that “any meal provided in schools is subject to tests carried out at the premises of the meal’s distributor by the Food Oversight Administration of the ministry, which approves the supply protocol if the food is safe for ingestion.”

The Health Ministry has halted meal supplies to the schools pending these investigations.

Education ministry officials quoted in local news outlets said the high turnout of food poisoning cases were a result of rumors that the state would provide monetary compensation to children affected.

Last week, two dozen students were poisoned as a result of consuming food distributed at their school in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut, resulting in the suspension of school meals in the governorate. Around 200 students were also diagnosed with food poisoning in two schools earlier this month in Minya, another governorate in Upper Egypt.

Over one hundred children were hospitalized in the Delta governorate of Beheira after eating contaminated food from their public school’s canteen in 2015.