The lunch provider that served Kaitaia College students raw chicken for lunch has been stood down while an investigation is completed.
Some students had to be hospitalised after eating the chicken and becoming ill.
The Ministry of Education confirmed Bells Produce had been stood down from providing school lunches until the Far North Council completed an investigation.
Kaitaia College principal Louise Ānaru told Newstalk ZB three people sought medical attention on Wednesday, after the chicken was served.
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Another fourteen people reported food poising symptoms on Thursday, she said.
Anyone off sick on Thursday was contacted, she said. None of them had been hospitalised, but one person did seek medical attention from their GP.
Ānaru said she was “so relieved” students were alright.
Lennox Goodhue-Wikitera, a year 12 student at the college, said things had been bad since the school signed up to the free lunch scheme two years ago.
“We’ve been served meatballs where the inside has been raw, and the meals we get are sometimes so bad they just go to waste because the kids can’t eat them,” Goodhue-Wikitera said.
Goodhue-Wikitera said students had lobbied for the school board to re-open their canteen, and even went as far as getting their cause highlighted on The Project in 2022, but nothing had changed.
“There had been improvement this term, until the raw chicken [on Wednesday],” he said.
“I don’t even know how it left the facility.”
Goodhue-Wikitera said there was “outrage” when the students opened up their lunches and realised the crumbed chicken was raw in the middle.
“Some kids went to the principal to tell her what had happened, and a few minutes later she came on over the intercom and told everyone to stop eating the chicken,” he said.
Goodhue-Wikitera said their school hall had to be turned into a makeshift triage area, where the students who had started to show signs of food poisoning were treated.
Since the students were left with no lunch, Goodhue-Wikitera said teachers bought food “out of their own pockets”.
He hoped the school would consider changing the provider of the free lunches.
A spokesperson for Bells Produce said they were “very sorry that this incident occurred, and that young people were put at risk”.
The spokesperson said Bells Produce would “cooperate fully” with the investigation.
They said it was important to understand how it happened and the findings of the investigation would inform any improvements we need to make to ensure it does not happen again.
On Thursday morning, Goodhue-Wikitera sent Stuff pictures of flyers students would be handing out at school, which read “we have the power”.
The students planned to protest against the inedible lunches at their school outside their canteen.
Kaiatia College was asked for additional comment on the situation, but only provided the same statement as on Wednesday, when the raw chicken was served.
“Kaitaia College is working with health authorities and the local hospital to ensure the safety of students who may have eaten raw chicken during the school’s provided lunch programme today,” the chairperson of the college’s Board of Trustees, Diane Laurenson, wrote in the statement.
“Students were immediately told to stop eating the chicken provided by an external caterer, but a number of them have begun feeling ill, with some being taken to hospital for further treatment.”
Kaitaia College said it took the health and safety of all its students and staff “very seriously”.
“Once students are safe, the College will investigate how this happened,” Laurenson said.
“We apologise to parents for this, and thank them for their understanding in this matter.”
Kaitaia College is not the only educational facility to fall victim to suspect food, with Victoria University students served “lukewarm” meals while isolating in their halls of residence with Covid-19.
Te Puni resident Skye Wright said in 2022 there was a lack of nutritious food available.
One meal included canned mushrooms and tinned baked beans, a hash brown, and a couple of rashers of bacon.
A mother of a student at Victoria’s Boulcott Hall said her daughter had to deliver water to a friend in isolation – to drink and cook noodles for dinner.
“They have cut the menu down but it is just revolting,” the mother said.