The problems came to a head on Monday, when Mars Foodservices announced it was recalling a number of products after its Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice sickened 34 students and four teachers at three public schools in Katy, TX. Those victims came down with burning rashes, headaches and nausea for 30 to 90 minutes before the symptoms subsided.
At this point, investigators are suspecting the students and teachers fell ill from overexposure to niacin, which can cause such symptoms in overabundance.
This is the third report of such an incident related to Uncle Ben’s rice in almost as many months.
In December, 25 children in Illinois had similar reactions after eating Uncle Ben’s rice in a school lunch. Investigators at that time tested some of the leftover rice and found it contained high levels of niacin, an FDA spokesperson told Food Safety News. Those illnesses reportedly prompted a smaller recall that received much less attention, as it only involved rice delivered for institutional use.
Even before that, in October, three daycare children and one college student in North Dakota experienced similar reactions after eating Uncle Ben’s rice.
Federal and state standards require the enrichment of white rice with niacin, according to Mars Foodservices in an emailed statement to Food Safety News. But those who fell sick clearly ate from shipments containing excessive levels of the compound.
The children who have fallen ill most commonly came down with flushing ears, arms and neck, according to a spokesperson with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of them developed rashes on their face and body.
While investigators are still technically looking into the latest cluster of illnesses in Texas, epidemiological details are consistent with the Illinois and North Dakota cases, the CDC spokesperson said.
Mars Foodservices said it is working closely with FDA to continue investigating the issue, and the agency’s spokesperson agreed that it was continuing its investigation.
For a complete list of recalled Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products, see here.© Food Safety News