Anyone who's ever eaten in a school cafeteria has been exposed to mystery meat, the strange substance used to make hamburgers and other dishes that are staples of the classic school lunch. Turkish officials, though, may have just added a new item to the school lunch repertoire: mystery milk.
According to reports in the Turkish press, a newly-launched government effort to distribute free milk to Turkey's 7.2 million schoolchildren started off on a disastrous note, with more than 1,000 kids going to the hospital on the program's first day after complaining of food poisoning-like symptoms. The reason? According to some doctors who treated the kids, it was a case of drinking spoiled milk. A member of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), went even further and suggested government-affiliated "partisan" milk firms were to blame.
In Turkey, the victim often gets blamed when something goes wrong, even if that victim is a child. Not surprisingly, government officials quickly dismissed the possibility that the children drank tainted milk, saying instead that many of them simply were not used to drinking the liquid or were allergic to it. Turkey's Education Minister even told reporters that perhaps some of the sickened students simply drank their milk too fast. Either way, samples of the supposedly long-lasting ultra pasteurized milk, which was distributed in individual cartons, were taken to a lab and results are expected on Friday.
Some aren't waiting for the lab results. On Thursday, a group of hackers known as "Redhack" attacked the websites of three companies that are part of the 17-member consortium that won the bid for the school milk program. "We are not against the free milk distribution campaign," the group wrote on its Twitter account. "We are against the distribution of spoiled milk."
This is actually not the first time food safety has been questioned in Turkey in recent months. As pointed out in a previous post, Turkish government inspectors in April were forced to take several brands of honey off store shelves after it turned out what was being sold was nothing more than glucose syrup. Even worse, some sausage brands that claimed to be made of beef actually contained horse meat. More details here.