Chinese girls die after eating school dinners

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Officials in north-west China are investigating the deaths of two young girls taken ill after eating dinner at their school, and the hospitalisation of 28 other children.

The two pupils, from Gansu province, began vomiting and suffering stomach pains after Monday's meal, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Xu Jing and Bao Dongxue, who are thought to have been in their mid-teens, were rushed to hospital but died shortly afterwards. The agency blamed food poisoning.

The local government sent more than 300 students from Qingcheng middle school for medical examinations. Thirty-eight were diagnosed with food poisoning, with 28 kept in for observation.

The Qingyang government information office said the public health bureau was working with other departments to determine the cause of the outbreak, examining samples of the food and interviewing all those involved with the cafeteria and even those still being treated in hospital.

On one bulletin board, a user claiming to attend the school alleged that rat poison had been found in post mortems on the victims. While unfounded rumours often spread like wildfire on the internet in China, food safety scares are also common and there have been numerous cases of deaths caused by toxic ingredients.

In 2002, in one of the most notorious incidents, at least 38 people - many schoolchildren - died after eating breakfast from a fast-food shop in eastern Jiangsu province. It later emerged a disgruntled business rival had added rat poison to the snacks.

Last month, Chinese media reported that around 170 guests at a wedding banquet in northern Hebei province were rushed to hospital suffering from stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. Powdered rust remover had been mistaken for salt and added to their food.




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