One elderly Helsinki woman is dead and a second patient – an adult member of the same household – is recovering in hospital after both ate from the same jar of almond-stuffed organic olives manufactured and packed by Gaudiano, an Italian food company.

Botulinum toxin was found in the opened jar by the Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare laboratory.

Approximately 900 jars of the incriminated olives were imported into Finland by Kespro in September 2010; most were sold at supermarkets belonging to the K-chain in Espoo (Iso Omena), Vantaa (Jumbo) and Rovaniemi (Eteläkeskus). Some of the olives also were served to customers in four restaurants in the Greater Helsinki area: Kolme Seppää (Helsinki), La Famiglia (Helsinki and Vantaa), and Rafaello.

Kespro has withdrawn the olives from retail sale, and EVIRA (the Finnish Food Safety Authority) has issued a warning to the public against eating the potentially toxic olives. The recall encompasses Gaudiano Organic Olives Stuffed With Almonds (314 ml glass jars; see sample jar, above; Best before dates 08/2012 and 09/2012; Batch numbers H2510X or L1810X).

EVIRA has continued to analyze unopened jars of the stuffed olives, but has not yet discovered botulinum toxin in any jar except for the opened jar consumed by the two Helsinki victims. During its investigation, however, EVIRA has observed that the lids of some of the jars were not tightly closed and had leaked.

After receiving notification of the problem via the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), Italian health authorities instructed the manufacturer (Società Cooperativa Agricola G.M.G. a r.l. dei F.lli Gaudiano) to suspend production and quarantine all outstanding products (not just the olives) pending an investigation of their manufacturing and packing operations. The company has withdrawn all production lots of its Almond-Stuffed Olives from the market.

Based on the trace-forward investigation carried out at Gaudiano’s facility, the incriminated batch of stuffed olives was shipped to one or more destinations in the following countries (see RASFF Notification #2011.1479): Armenia, Barbados, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Government food safety sites in Finland, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany have issued consumer alerts and/or recall notices for the incriminated batch of olives.

Olive-lovers around the world should check their pantries and refrigerators for Gaudiano products, and return the Almond-Stuffed Olives to the store or discard them in a sealed bag. And, until the Italian investigation is complete and the outcome is known, it would be wise to abstain from eating other Gaudiano products that are packed in hermetically-sealed jars.