030503 Supermarket's Meat Poisoned with PesticideMay 9, 2003
New York - A mysterious case of food poisoning linked to ground beef purchased at one Michigan supermarket was a result of intentional contamination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.
Nearly 100 people became ill shortly after eating ground beef that was poisoned with what the investigators believe was a nicotine-containing pesticide called 'Black Leaf 40.'
'This incident underscores the importance of ensuring the safety and security of the food supplies,' according to the report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The poisoned meat was recalled in early January 2003, soon after members of four families notified the store that they experienced burning of the mouth, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
After the recall of 1,700 pounds of meat, an analysis of returned meat samples indicated nicotine was the contaminant.
The high nicotine concentration in the meat 'prompted concerns of intentional contamination with a pesticide' and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved in the matter, the report indicates.
In February, an employee of the supermarket was indicted for allegedly poisoning 200 pounds of ground beef with Black Leaf 40.
All told, 92 people became sick after eating the poisoned meat. An additional 16 cases are being investigated to determine whether they were poisoned by the meat, as well. And some cases were reported nearly 50 days after the last date of possible sale because people froze the meat and ate it at a later date.
'Vigilance and heightened awareness for human poisonings caused by hazardous levels of chemical in the food supply are essential, ' according to the CDC.
'Clinicians should immediately report clusters of poisonings to public health officials, especially when presenting symptoms are unusual,' the agency concludes.
Furthermore, the CDC recommends that public health response systems that address chemical poisonings in food be strengthened.
Currently only nine nicotine-containing pesticides are registered for use in the state of Michigan, and none of them have nicotine levels that exceed 14%, according to the CDC.
Black Leaf 40, on the other hand, has a nicotine level of 40 percen,t and its product registration was canceled by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 due to its toxicity.