A consumer group in Taiwan looks set to launch a class action lawsuit after a fatal food poisoning outbreak earlier this year.

The incident in March claimed six lives and left 24 victims with minor or serious injuries, said the Consumer Federation.

The Consumer Foundation said it would file a group lawsuit seeking compensation for the families of the six deceased people and other victims, who had varying severity of illness.

30 consumers have expressed their willingness to be included in the lawsuit, but information and documentary evidence are still being assessed. The group said it would also monitor any findings from criminal investigations.

Bongkrekic acid, produced by the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli pathovar cocovenenans, is a lethal toxin.

Incident background
During a few days in March, nine people who dined at a branch of the Malaysian restaurant Polam Kopitiam developed symptoms within 12 hours and two of them died.  

Examination by experts from National Taiwan University’s Department of Forensic Medicine revealed the presence of Bongkrekic acid in the blood of one of the deceased, marking the first-ever detection of the toxin in Taiwan, according to a study published in the Journal of Infection. All patients with severe illness tested positive for Bongkrekic acid.

Despite Bongkrekic acid being detected on samples from one of the chef’s hands in the restaurant, no food samples from the restaurant or its suppliers, including two types of rice noodles and pandan leaves, showed contamination.

A total of 34 people fell ill after dining at the restaurant in March. Bongkrekic acid was detected in 22 patients. Investigations revealed that all cases had consumed flat rice noodles, making this product the most likely source of the outbreak.

Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, are the most common initial signs of poisoning, followed by neurologic symptoms, including generalized malaise, vertigo, headache, irritability, convulsion, and loss of consciousness. The disease progresses rapidly, leading to the failure of multiple organs, including the brain, liver, and kidneys.

There is no antidote for Bongkrekic acid poisoning and no standardized treatment protocols for affected individuals. Patient care typically involves providing symptomatic relief and supportive measures.

“The outbreak of Bongkrekic acid-related food poisoning in Taiwan underscores the urgent need for improved awareness and surveillance of this rare yet deadly toxin. Diagnosis and treatment of Bongkrekic acid poisoning present significant challenges, necessitating further research into effective detection methods and therapeutic interventions,” said researchers.

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