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Opening Day of Olympic Games Includes Olives With Botulism

Next to the Queen looking pretty bored during the Open Ceremonies, about the worst thing for the British was a few jars of Italian olives contaminated with deadly botulism showing up at the start of the London Games.

The problem first surfaced on July 25 when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom learned that one person — now recovering in a hospital — became ill with botulism after eating Italian olives.

On the opening day of the London 2012 Olympics, FSA issued a second “food alert for action,” saying that Italian Authorities had confirmed that 60 jars of the implicated Divini Di Chicco Francesco olives were distributed to one supplier in the UK.

FSA found the supplier then distributed the contaminated olives to three independent delicatessens in the UK between July 2011 and July 2012. The supplier has removed any remaining stock of the recalled product from retail shelves.

None should remain available for sale, according to FSA. The Divini di Chicco olives are sold in 580 grams jars with best buy before dates of 10 June 2014. The lot number is 161/11.

According to FSA, deadly botulism is rare in the UK.  Caused by toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, the disease can attack the nervous systems of people of any age. Symptoms of foodborne botulism usually begin within 12 to 36 hours after contaminated food is ingested. The onset of the illness can occur in as little as six hours.

Blurred vision, difficulty swallowing and difficulty speaking are among the early symptoms that quickly evolve into general muscle weakness and paralysis.

Botulism can usually be treated if caught early. FSA did not say whether the person stricken with botulism by the olives remains in hospital. Nor is it know if any of the olive merchants were located in the vicinity of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

London 2012 did get underway without any food-related illness reports related to players, unlike during the last Olympics held in England 64 years ago, when, after becoming ill with food poisoning, several British swimmers suspected that the Americans had sabotaged their team by providing it with tainted food that made them sick. Sylvia Holt, widow of the late Thomas Holt who swam for Britain in 1948, brought the old accusations back up in an interview with the Sunshine Coast Daily published Tuesday.

But, according to FSA’s publication Bite, Americans were not the only ones donating food that year.

“Britain was bankrupt by the time the war ended, and as a result, rationing was more strict in 1948 than it had been during the war years,” Bite reports. “For the 1948 Olympics, food parcels were sent to the British athletes from all over the world and many competing nation sent additional provisions for the British competitors.”

Olympics athletes in 1948 were allowed 3,900 calories a day, just like workers in heavy industry, a big jump from the standard adult allowance of around 2,000 calories. Canteens under British supervision set up to feed the Olympic competitors were supplied by commercial kitchens with appropriate national and regional cuisines.

FSA is working overtime to make London 2012 “the safest Games yet in terms of food safety.” ¬†It is working with local health enforcement officers and food businesses to ensure food safety in and around the Games.

Steps it has taken to ensure food safety include:

– Conducting an emergency exercise to “game” any eventualities that might occur.

– Implementing the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in three quarters of London’s boroughs (and much of the rest of the country), with a public display of the latest restaurant and take-away inspection scores.

– Ensuring that “safer food,better business” (SFBB) hygiene kits are distributed to small independent businesses, allowing them to test work surfaces and cutting boards.

– Providing water testing to boats and ships berthing in London during the Games.

If there is a food safety incident, FSA’s incident response unit is ready to go. The unit will be sent out for any food poisoning, food contamination or food fraud incidence. It is working in conjunction with the UK’s Health Protection Agency and the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games.

London is expecting at least 600,000 visitors during the Games.

© Food Safety News