The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency Thursday issued a specific warning about artisan foods linked to a potentially deadly botulism outbreak in France.
Residents and visitors to France were warned not to eat what the English call pastes or spreads, and the French call tapenade, from an unlicensed, cottage-food maker called La Ruche based in Cavaillon, France, and branded as:
- Les Délices de Marie Claire
- Terre de Mistral
- Les Secrets d’Anaïs
Botulism is a rare but serious illness that can cause muscle weakness and breathing difficulties that can quickly turn fatal without expert medical treatment.
Eight adults, five from southern France and three from the Somme district in the north of the country, have been stricken by botulism since eating the tapenade, the Food Standards Agency reports. All eight have been hospitalized; three are on life support.
All the products tested positive for botulism. The FSA said anyone who has consumed any of them should seek immediate medical attention.
The tapenade or spreads are made with olives, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, bell-peppers, anchovies, tuna, chickpeas, artichokes and aubergines.
A public health warning issued in France said investigators thought jars used for tapenade (olive paste) had not been properly sterilized and further tests found contamination in other products including dried tomatoes, sandwich spread, pesto and pastes made from anchovies, eggplants, peppers, chickpeas and artichokes.
“Many jars are still in circulation, putting people who might eat them at a severe risk”, French public health officials said, adding that the products are sold in popular tourist spots, so there is a risk that people from all over France and from abroad will have bought them.
They have been on sale in shops and markets particularly in the Provence, Cote D’Azur region since May 31 this year with a best before date of 16 December 2012 and lot number 112005.
La Ruche, (“the beehive”), which made the toxin-tainted tapenade, had never registered as required with the Vaucluse 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 public health authorities, its production facility – in operation since 2000 – was never inspected. Prefecture authorities said even a cursory inspection of La Ruche’s operations would have uncovered egregious food safety errors of omission and commission.
The La Ruche products have been withdrawn from sale in France. They apparently were not sold anywhere in the United Kingdom, but could have been purchased online.
“If you have brought these products back from France or bought them online you should not eat them but should dispose of them immediately,” FSA warns. “If you have already eaten any of these products and feel unwell, it’s important that you seek medical attention straight away, and tell your doctor that you’ve eaten food from La Ruche.”
In a normal year, France experiences only about 20 cases of botulism.