Health officials in Portugal have warned against eating a type of bread after almost 200 people fell sick in recent weeks.

The Directorate-General of Health (DGS) said 187 suspected cases of food poisoning have been recorded associated with the consumption of broa de milho (a type of cornbread) in certain areas of the country between July 21 and August 9. Affected regions are Leiria, Santarém, Coimbra, and Aveiro.

“Broa de milho is, and should continue to be, an integral part of the Portuguese diet. However, in the context of suspected food poisoning, it is recommended that the consumption of this food be stopped in the geographical areas identified above, pending an investigation by the authorities,” said the DGS.

Patients presented similar symptoms including a dry mouth, visual changes, dizziness, mental confusion and decreased muscle strength. Symptoms were observed between 30 minutes to two hours after eating food. In most cases, symptoms were classed as mild but 43 suspected patients required hospital care. However, the agent responsible has not been revealed.

Focus on flour
An epidemiological investigation is in progress and involves regional departments of public health, the Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE) and the General Directorate of Food and Veterinary Affairs (DGAV).

Authorities have restricted the raw materials used in the manufacture of broa de milho that is suspected to be involved and are monitoring the situation.

Those affected had consumed broa de milho produced and distributed in the districts of Santarém, Leiria, Coimbra and Aveiro. Initial suspicions have fallen on the flour used to make the product.

To deal with the existing uncertainty, officials are carrying out tests on food and raw materials as well as inspecting businesses to identify the batches of raw materials used.

DGS said the recommendation to avoid broa de milho in the four regions listed is a preventive measure that would remain in place until there is a guarantee that all potentially contaminated foods have been removed from the market and the investigation has been completed.

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