PUTRAJAYA - About a quarter of all food poisoning cases reported in the country last year was suspected to have come from the consumption of meals prepared in school canteens.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the School Canteen Cleanliness awards had been conceptualised to counter cases of food poisoning in school canteens.
"This is to recognise the school staff, including teachers and canteen operators, who have taken the initiative to solve the problem of food poisoning in schools," he said in his speech during the awards ceremony.
Subramaniam said he hoped the competition would encourage canteen operators to practise and maintain cleanliness and food safety.
The Health Ministry, he added, worked closely with the Education Ministry to ensure that food served in school canteens was clean and healthy.
"If we don't look after the students' health when they are young, there will be other problems when they are adults," Dr Subramaniam told reporters at the event.
On the competition, Dr Subramaniam said the level of food safety and cleanliness in rural and urban schools, was judged under two different categories respectively.
The top three primary schools from each category participated in the national level competition to represent their respective states.
SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail (1), Kuala Lumpur, emerged as champion in the urban category while SK Tebing Tembah, Terengganu won the first prize in the rural category. Both schools received RM3,000 (S$1,200) each.
Normadiah Nadzir, who runs the canteen in SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail (1), said she had come up with a specific menu for the pupils.
Called the Selamat, Murah, Sihat 1Malaysia (SMS1M) menu, she prepares a range of dishes for the pupils daily which includes at least one main dish and several varieties of snacks.
She had also ensured that the chopping boards used in the canteen to be colour coded and those used for meat cannot be used for other types of food.