Food for thought : a closer look at Ipolokeng primary schools’ nutrition programme.
Khuzwayo, Hlengiwe Princess.
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The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was initiated in 1994 to improve the learning capacity of children through school feeding; to increase the attendance of learners; to obliterate school dropout; to increase the pass rate; to reduce the rate of child mortality; and to empower poverty-stricken communities, particularly in rural areas across all nine provinces in South Africa (Seoketsa, 2007). For many South African children, the meals provided through the school feeding programme are their main, and in some cases their sole source of energy and nutrients. The success of the school feeding programme hinges on volunteer food handlers (food handlers are mainly local women from the community who are responsible for the preparation and serving of meals at schools). Although annual reports from the Department of Basic Education indicate the success of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) (DBE, 2009; DBE, 2010a; DBE, 2011), there have been reported incidents of food poisoning and food contamination in the following provinces: KZN, Limpopo, Gauteng, and the Eastern Cape (Myburgh, 2015). Whilst South African food legislation requires that the food that is made available to the general public should be hygienic and free of harmful substances and organisms (R.1183 of 1990; R.918 of 1999), in 2014 alone, 1 600 learners took ill after consuming contaminated food from their school’s nutrition programme. Sound nutrition comprises more than simply the availability of food. It was these incidences of food poisoning and contamination that prompted me to take a closer look at my school’s nutrition programme (Ipolokeng primary). We feed 599 learners on a daily basis. The study was guided by the following research questions: What are the knowledge and practices of food handlers and suppliers with regard to food safety? What is the practice of food handlers with regard to food preparation? Do the meals prepared and served to learners constitute a balanced meal? If so, how? If not, why not? Do the levels of environmental hygiene at Ipolokeng primary meet the requirements prescribed by Regulation R918 of 30 July 1999? If so, how? If not, why not? To address these questions, a qualitative case study design approach was used. Data was generated through questionnaires, photo observations, photo focus group discussions, and document analysis. The data collected were then subjected to a content analysis. The findings of the study reveal that the VFH has not undergone any formal training in terms of food preparation/food safety to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills required to engage with the preparation of food in a safe manner. In terms of their practice during food preparation, the findings expose that the standards and requirements prescribed by Regulation 9 of R918 of July 1999 were not complied with. Adequate cautionary measures to safeguard food from contamination were not taken by the Volunteer Food Handlers (VFHs) or the SMT of Ipolokeng primary school. As a result of their poor practice during food preparation, food safety was not maintained and good personal hygiene was not practiced at Ipolokeng primary school in terms of the stipulations of Regulation R918 of 1999. On the days when food items went ’astray’, learners at Ipolokeng primary did not eat a balanced meal comprising all of the food groups. In terms of the level of environmental hygiene, Ipolokeng primary school did not meet the requirements stipulated by Regulation R918 of 1999 regarding ablution facilities, the availability of hand sanitizer, and disposable hand towels. The absence of these essential items compromised the personal hygiene practice of the VFH, the learners and teachers, and thereby impacted the safety of the food prepared and consumed. Additionally, the garbage disposal facilities, food storage area, and the food preparation area at Ipolokeng primary also failed to embrace the conditions set out by Regulation R918 of 1999. Furthermore, there was no feeding area where learners could sit and eat their meals. The lack of environmental hygiene at Ipolokeng primary has raised questions about the safety of the food prepared at the school. The above findings signal the need for capacity building programmes for the effective implementation of the NSNP.