IIIT Hyderabad: Food poisoning cases among hostel students was a menace in the making. Students share their story

The students allege that there have been many instances where they found pests in food items and containers in the hostel mess
Students speak up
Students speak up (Pic: EdexLive Desk)

Amidst a food poisoning outbreak at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Hyderabad, students are attributing the health crisis to the appalling condition of the food and water provided in the hostel messes.

In May, boarders at the IIIT Hyderabad hostels suffered food poisoning after consuming food served in the mess. The affected boarders included not only students staying on campus for the summer but also a group of high school students attending the Panini Linguistics Olympiad, according to Ping! IIIT Hyderabad’s independent media outlet.

 According to the boarders, the food served in the mess often comes cooked with cockroaches, worms, and ants, with flies swarming all over them. 

Images of the food, shared by both students and alumni, have sparked a backlash against the institution. Sashwant Goel, an alumnus of IIIT Hyderabad, took to X to provide a detailed overview of the situation, alleging negligence by the authorities.

Goel claims that the institution attempted to keep the issue under wraps until participants of the Panini Linguistics Olympiad suffered from food poisoning, escalating the crisis.

Reflecting on the administration's inaction, a final-year student at the institute, who preferred to remain anonymous, informed EdexLive that in recent months, numerous instances of finding pests in food items and containers have occurred. They revealed, “In the Kadamb mess, one of the four mess halls at IIIT-H, we discovered a rat in the sugar box. Additionally, many food items in tetra packs were found to contain lizards.”

Moreover, the student alleges that there has been a significant drop in the quality of food over the last six months. “The food is spicier and oilier than before, making it unpalatable. There seems to be more oil than food in our plates”, they said. 

The student asserts that it is apparent the mess and institute administration of IIIT Hyderabad has been highly negligent in maintaining food items. They further argue that the mess kitchens and storerooms are inaccessible to students, leaving them unaware of the conditions in which the food is stored.

 The lackadaisical approach allegedly extends to the maintenance of utensils as well. According to the student, the plates are consistently greasy because the mess staff does not use soap when washing them. “There have also been instances where the staff used the spoons in the mess to unclog sink drains,” the student alleges. 

In some mess halls, the students are supposed to wash their utensils after they finish eating, but most of them leave their plates in the sink, attracting rats and other pests, says the student.

Response from the admin?

 The student further claims that despite efforts to reach out to the institute’s management, there has been no response, acknowledgement or action taken to rectify the condition of the mess. 

 “We sent detailed emails to the administration, trying to bring their attention to each of these problems. However, our complaints have fallen on deaf ears,” they claim. 

Furthermore, the student alleges that the administration’s limited attempts to address the students’ concerns regarding the mess and its food have been inadequate. “The administration conducted a lab analysis of the food samples following the food poisoning incident and deemed the food safe. However, the samples were collected from only two mess halls, not from all the halls where food items were served,” the student explains.

 “Every day, at least 15 students visit the campus clinic, complaining of stomach issues. The clinic has also communicated this to the admin. Despite this, no action has been initiated," the student further alleges. 

No option to opt-out

To top it all, the mess service at IIIT-H is compulsory, and students cannot de-register themselves. 

“We are allowed to miss 15 meals at the mess in a month – five breakfasts, five lunches and give dinners. Students who miss more than 15 meals in a month would have to pay cancellation charges along with the following month’s mess fees,” says the student. 

Moreover, a significant number of students find themselves obliged to order food and water from external sources or their homes due to concerns about the quality of campus food and water. Nonetheless, they are still required to pay the mess fees.

 “We end up spending money on ordering food and water, in addition to paying the mess fees. It becomes a double expense for us,” remarks the student, adding that the administration should allow students to opt out of the mess service until its issues are resolved.

Response from the IIIT Hyderabad administration

On its part, the institute asserts that the food poisoning was not a result of the mess of food, yet it is actively working to address the situation.

Its response to the press is as follows: 

“On 24th May 2024, there were 33 reported cases of stomach upsets (with symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting) of which a large number recovered within a day. Since then, IIIT-H has taken immense care to monitor the situation, and a number of steps including food, milk and water testing, pre-emptive cleaning of water and storage spaces, and a thorough audit of the mess. We are concerned that despite these measures’ cases have not come down to zero, and a few cases are still being reported every day. In this entire period, only two students had to be taken to the hospital where they were discharged within a day. Medical tests didn’t show the presence of any pathogens or disease-causing agents. The institute’s mess committee, health and medical committee, hostel wardens and senior administration are closely monitoring the situation. Public health experts are being consulted for addressing the situation”.

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