In ancient Rome, the duty was often given to a slave termed as praegustator (taster of food before it is brought to the table). In recent times, animals such as mice have been used to detect impurities in food to be consumed by humans.

Now, teachers in Government schools double up as tasters – to make sure that food served to children under the Government-sponsored Mid-Day Meal scheme is safe to eat. In Krishna district, the student-feeding programme is implemented in 3,340 schools where self-help groups and Dwcra group members cook and serve the food.

In the aftermath of the Bihar incident which saw over 20 deaths of schoolchildren after eating contaminated food, the authorities woke up to the need of paying attention to the quality of food being served.

In Krishna district, the authorities have asked teachers to don the role of a teacher and a taster. “On a rotation basis, one teacher tastes the food served to children every day. A separate register is maintained to enter the name, remarks and signature of the ‘taster’. This is to ensure accountability,” says Krishna District Education Officer (DEO) D. Devanand Reddy.

“The vigil has been tightened after the Bihar tragedy. We supervise kitchen sheds and student enrolment records,” says Deputy DEO M.V. Krishna Reddy.

The new system has not gone down well with many, including the teachers’ unions which are opposed to use of teachers as ‘guinea pigs’.

“It is ridiculous to ask teachers to ‘taste’ the food. We want Andhra Pradesh to embrace the Tamil Nadu model where agencies are roped in to supply hygienic cooked food packets that are distributed to children. Teachers have no role to play in it,” says State secretary of State Teachers’ Union M. Appa Rao.

In the present system, the provisions given to the cooks are of low quality. There is no proper place to store them, the remuneration paid to them is inadequate and so the element of commitment is missing, says Mr. Rao.

“The Mid-Day Meal scheme has been reduced to a farce. The Government is not sincere about strengthening the schools or feeding children from economically poor sections. They are mere vote banks. Supervising system has completely collapsed in education sector. The programme is meant to tackle hunger and illiteracy but it is turning out to be dreaded factor,” says Mr. Rao.

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