Eight people are in hospital today – 5 in Vaucluse and 3 in Somme – after consuming a commercial tapinade tainted with Clostridium botulinum type A toxin. Three of the eight are on life-support.

Botulinum toxin is a potent neurotoxin that may be produced during the growth of Clostridium botulinum. Even a small amount of the toxin, when ingested, causes a potentially deadly paralysis. Most instances of botulism are traced to consumption of home-canned foods. But this case is different.

All eight victims reported having consumed a commercially prepared “artisanal” tapenade of green olives and almonds, identified as follows:

“les délices de Marie Claire” Conserve de tapenade d’olive verte aux amandes, pot de 180g. Lot #112005; DLC 16/12/2012. Produced by “La ruche”, 84300 Cavallion.

The Institut Pasteur reports finding botulinum toxin in a sample of this product. The tapenade, which was sold in grocery stores in Bouches du Rhône, Drôme, Var, and Vaucluse, has been recalled, and consumers are alerted not to consume the offending tapenade.

La Ruche, the producer of the toxin-tainted tapenade, never registered with the Prefecture. The couple who own and operate La Ruche did not carry out appropriate control procedures, did not seek technical assistance, and did not have the proper equipment in place to sterilize their product effectively, according to Mme. Martine Clavel, Secretary General of Vaucluse Prefecture.

Because the company was unknown to Prefecture food safety authorities, its production facility – in operation since 2000 – was never inspected. Even a cursory inspection of La Ruche’s operations would have uncovered the egregious errors of omission and commission described by Ms. Clavel.

While the offending batch of tapenade is small – approximately 60 jars – the risk to the public is large. Prefecture authorities have ordered the suspension of all production activities at La Ruche in addition to the recall of all outstanding product currently in circulation.

Please check your pantry for any Les Délices de Marie Claire brand of preserves, and discard them safely or return them to the grocery store. DO NOT TASTE THESE PRODUCTS. Even a tiny amount may contain enough botulinum toxin to cause serious illness.

As always, “when in doubt, throw it out” is the safest policy.