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Botulism is a big deal. It is a rare – and potentially deadly – form of food poisoning that is caused by a potent neurotoxin produced during the growth of Clostridium botulinum.

In October 2011, two members of the same Finnish household developed symptoms of botulism after consuming commercially produced pasteurized olives stuffed with almonds (Bio-Gaudiano Olives Stuffed with Almonds; product of Italy). One of the two victims died two weeks after being admitted to hospital. The second victim also was hospitalized, but survived. One other family member also tasted the olives, but only suffered from diarrhea. A fourth member of the household had no symptoms – and never sampled the olives.

Lab analysis of the stomach contents and the stool of both hospitalized victims revealed the presence of the gene for botulinum toxin type B. Lab tests of various food samples retrieved from the patients’ household found botulinum toxin type B in the remaining contents of the jar of olives. All other food samples were negative for the toxin.

Finland’s Food Safety Authority (EVIRA) conducted a trace-back investigation of the implicated olives, and the offending batches were recalled from the market. During the trace-back, investigators found some leaking jars of Bio-Gaudiano olives; the contents of some jars were obviously spoiled. As a result, the Italian manufacturer withdrew all production batches of Bio-Gaudiano Olives Stuffed with Almonds, and suspended production pending investigation by Italian public health authorities.

The withdrawn products were distributed to several EU member countries, as well as to a number of countries outside the EU. Notification was sent to authorities in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, Armenia, Barbados, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan and the USA. No country other than Finland reported even one case of botulism that could be associated with the stuffed olives.

Consumers following the Italian Ministry of Health web site could be excused if they thought that the story ended there. No updates have been released since the original notice was posted on October 21st. But that was definitely NOT the end of the story.

On December 1st, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced that “[i]nvestigations in Italy and in Finland have led to the decision to extend the withdrawal to include all products manufactured by Societa Cooperativa Agricola GMG F.lli Gaudiano arl, Italy.” Finland’s EVIRA followed with its own announcement on December 2nd.

Based on the information released by Ireland and Finland, the product withdrawal includes all batch codes and “best before dates” of the following products (different products may have been exported to other countries):

  • Bio Stuffed Olives Almonds
  • Bio Sundried Tomatoes in Sunflower Oil
  • Bio Green Olives Paté
  • Bio Stuffed Olives Peppers
  • Bio Semi-dry Tomatoes in Sunflower Oil
  • Bio Black Olives Paté
  • Bio Stuffed Olives Garlic
  • Bio Salted Capers 9/10 mm
  • Bio Sundried Tomatoes Paté
  • Bio Stuffed Olives Hot Chilli Peppers
  • Bio Hearts Artichokes in Sunflower Oil
  • Bio Artichokes Paté
  • Bio Stuffed Olives Cranberry
  • Bio Grilled Aubergines
  • Bio Garlic Paté
  • Gaudiano Black Olive in Salamoia (Brine)
  • Gaudiano Green Olive in Salamoia (Brine)

The withdrawn products were distributed to only one company in Ireland – Russell Gallery in New Quay, Co. Clare. In Finland, the products were supplied to K-food stores, KCM Big Apple (Espoo) KCM Jumbo (Vantaa) and KSM South Centre (Rovaniemi), and to three restaurants: Three Smiths (Helsinki), LaFamiglia (Helsinki and Vantaa), Rafaelo (Helsinki) and Apple (Helsinki).

No new Food Safety Alert has been posted as yet (December 8, 2011) on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that many of the countries identified in the original notice (#2011.1479) also received one or more additional withdrawn products. The likely recipient countries include: 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.

eFoodAlert Consumer Advisory

Check your pantry and refrigerator for any product manufactured by Societa Cooperativa Agricola GMG F.lli Gaudiano arl, Italy. Discard all of these products in a safe manner. DO NOT TASTE THESE PRODUCTS. If you have consumed even a tiny amount of one of the withdrawn products and begin to experience any symptoms of botulism, including blurred vision or difficulty swallowing, seek immediate medical attention.

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