Aug 3, 2004 (CIDRAP NEWS) – Two baby food jars in California were found to contain the remains of ground-up castor beans but not purified ricin, the deadly poison derived from castor beans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week.
The tampering incident caused no illness and apparently was confined to the Irvine, Calif., area, the FDA said in a Jul 28 news release.
The Associated Press (AP) reported Jul 29 that a man contacted Irvine police on Jun 16 to tell them he had found a note inside a jar of baby food, warning that it had been contaminated. A similar case had been reported by an Irvine couple on May 31, police said. A note was also found inside that jar.
FDA analysis of the two jars of Gerber Banana Yogurt showed only castor beans. Ricin can be extracted from castor beans—which come from a widely available ornamental plant—and purified to a powerful poison. However, the material found in the baby food was far less toxic than purified ricin, the FDA said.
A 9-month-old girl and a 1-year-old boy ate small amounts of the food but had no symptoms, Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer with the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told the AP.
Gerber Products Co. released a statement Jul 28 saying the company had been told the product tampering did not occur at its facilities and that the company was not a target. Nonetheless, the company removed the Banana Yogurt from all southern California stores, not just the Ralph's grocery in Irvine where the two tampered jars were bought, according to a Reuters report.
A man identified as a possible witness in the case spoke briefly with police in late July. The FBI and the Orange County District Attorney's office were investigating the incidents as cases of food tampering. The AP quoted two federal law enforcement officials as saying there was no evidence of any widespread ricin contamination of baby food.
The FDA recommends that caregivers carefully examine all food product packaging, including anti-tampering devices such as lid safety buttons. (See link below for more information.)
Jul 28 FDA news release
FDA information on detecting food tampering