Not only is buffalo meat non-compliant with nutritional requirements, the pantries of most canteens were stocked with expired goods or food brands that had not been approved by the Education Ministry.
This was found during an audit of 30 school canteens in Terengganu, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Sabah and Selangor last year.
Ten school canteens were using imported frozen meat, including buffalo meat and fish, while 21 were using inferior food brands that did not comply with quality standards.
For example, instead of using Horlicks as specified in their contract, canteen operators used Coco Tiger; Mibo cooking oil instead of Knife; Cap Angsa Emas soy sauce instead of Cap Kipas; and Sunquick cordial instead of Peel Fresh juice.
Oyster sauce, tomato sauce and butter which had expired two months before the audit were found in some pantries, while a school canteen in Johor had rebottled used cooking oil for reuse.
A canteen operator in Selangor had used "discouraged flavour enhancers" like monosodium glutamate, while drink colouring and flavouring were used in Johor school canteens.
A school canteen operator in Sabah had cut corners by serving plain noodles without vegetables, thereby contravening the contract, while others used rusty woks and cooked in dirty areas.
The government had in 2011 spent RM270.78 million to subsidise food for students in vocational, technical, residential and government-assisted Islamic schools.
'An act of cheating'
In response, the ministry told the auditor-general that it will carry out investigations, issue warnings to errant operators and take action if there is no improvement.
"The ministry views this matters seriously. The rebottling of used cooking oil is an act of cheating... The operator will be given a stern warning for this and the use of flavour enhancers," it said.
On the use of frozen meat and fish, canteen operators have claimed that it is difficult to purchase large quantities of fresh meat.
However, the ministry is holding school administrators accountable for not monitoring the operators.
A ministerial investigative committee will begin work this month into the issues raised in the audit report.
"As an interim measure, a directive was issued in May 2012 to ensure contract compliance and improvement in practices," said the ministry.