Pampanga Milk Poisoning


News stories on widespread milk poisoning involving hundreds of schoolchildren in Milanin, Pampanga rocked the country in March. Media reports said the children were rushed to different hospitals in the said town after drinking milk chocolate in tetra packs whose expiry date had been tampered with. The packs that were reportedly donated by Senate President Franklin Drilon in 2001 were distributed by the Department of Education (DepEd) for its feeding program. (Philippine Star, March 12)

The news said that 300 students from Sto. Domingo Elementary School, 166 from San Isidro Elementary School and 624 from Lourdes Elementary School were seen by doctors at the state owned Jose B. Lingad Memorial Hospital. The Pampanga school officials said that after the children were examined, only 179 were asked to stay for treatment. The said officials also disclosed that 530 students from Sta. Rita Elementary School were seen by doctors at the barangay health center. The same officials said that DepEd would be shouldering the hospital bills of the students. (PDI, March 12)

Meanwhile, Drilon denied any responsibility in the reported food poisoning, emphasizing that he did not have a direct hand in the distribution except to sponsor the school milk program among publicelementary students in the country. He said that DepEd implements the program and the milk supply was bid out and won by Alaska Milk Corporation (AMC). AMC, on the other, said that it has already dispatched a team of quality assurance personnel to Pampanga to look into the problem. (Philippine Star, March 12)

After initial investigation, DepEd officials said that the improper storage of the milk chocolate drink in the school buildings of flood-prone Minalin might have caused the food poisoning, even as they stressed that the milk served was not spoiled and its expiry date was not tampered with contrary to the claims made by some individuals. (PDI, March 13)

However, the local government officials of Minalin, Pampanga thought otherwise. Its municipal government said that it would file charges against AMC following the food poisoning incident. Minalin Mayor Edgar Flores said that there was an obvious tampering of expiry dates on the tetra pack packaging and apparently they used a machine to tamper with the figures. The Mayor added that several milk containers were discovered with expiry dates changed to October 2002. (Manila Standard, March 13)

To quickly end the incident, the DepEd decided to suspend its nationwide milk-feeding program while the agency looked into the incident. (Manila Times, March 16)

In the wake of the reported food poisoning, Pampanga governor Manuel Lapid stopped the distribution of some 70,000 packs of milk to public elementary schools. The said packs were about to be distributed to grade school children as part of the government’s nutrition program. Lapid ordered the storage of the milk products to ensure that these are available for the investigations being conducted by government and private agencies. (Manila Bulletin March 15)

As the case developed experts from the Bureau of food and Drugs (BFAD) hinted that the poisoning could have been triggered by other food items that they consumed instead of milk as initially suspected. BFAD reportedly found that the students who complained of stomach pain and dizziness had eaten assorted foods such as buns, hotcakes, pizza and biscuits before drinking milk. Although BFAD said that it could have been caused by other food products, the agency is still not ruling out milk as its tests is still ongoing and no conclusion had been reached yet. (Malaya, March 18)

The initial findings of the BFAD laboratory tests came out after a few days. The result indicated that the Alaska milk chocolate drink did not cause the poisoning as the physical and chemical analysis of the said drink were found to be typical of chocolate drink. The BFAD experts conducted the testing by looking at the physical appearance of the packaging, its lot number, expiry dates, consistency of taste, smell and texture of the milk chocolate product, and the onset of decontamination or deterioration. The BFAD confirmed that the packages submitted for testing showed tampered expiry dates but lab tests did not show spoilage. (Manila Times, March 20)

Soon after, AMC also released its initial findings and reported that it was not milk but hotcakes, buns and pizza sold by teachers that downed hundreds of students in Minalin. AMC officials said that it was now up to DepEd to pursue the veracity of their report. (PDI, March 20)

The DepEd also released the result of thir initial investigation and declared that it was milk intolerance and not food poisoning. The school milk project coordinator of DepEd said in her report that the incident in Minalin cannot be totally attributed to milk poisoning and added that it was highly probable that most of the victims exhibited milk intolerance which is common among Asians, especially to non-milk drinkers. (Philippine Star, March 22)

By early April, the news that BFAD cleared AMC after the milk tested negative for any form of bacteria and showed no abnormalities in order and appearance, as stated by the microbiology laboratory report dated March 21, came out. (Philippine Star, April 4)

Despite the results, however, the local officials of Pampanga are not dropping their plans to file a suit for damages against AMC. The officials were not convinced with the BFAD’s findings and decided that an expert’s findings and decided that an expert’s opinion must be sought. (PDI, April 8)