This weekend's recall of Korean oysters contaminated with a contagious virus was just one of more than a dozen instances of tainted food pinpointed by food safety officials in recent days.
Among them: 85,000 tins of Christmas cookies sold at Rite Aid stores, smoked fish from the Philippines, pine nuts from Turkey and organic olives from Italy.
All told, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced 14 food recalls over the past ten days, most of them linked to bacteria and virus contamination.
Even the most innocuous foods can become contaminated.
Rite Aid is recalling 85,000 tins of its Rich Fields Butter Cookies, sold in 12-ounce tins decorated with images of a castle or Christmas designs. The cookies may be contaminated with a bacteria called bacillus cereus, which can cause stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting. The company did not say which states or which stores carried the products.
In a new twist, Rite Aid said it was able to contact some of the people who bought the cookies directly, because they used their rewards cards for the purchase. This meant that Rite Aid had a record of who they were and what they bought.
The recalls are taking place in a climate of increased concern about food safety, especially with regard to products imported from China.
Under a new federal law, the FDA must develop new ways of detecting foodborne illnesses and letting consumers know about them. To that end, the agency announced earlier this fall that it is developing two pilot programs to help identify higher risk food categories and track potential contamination.
Over the past ten days, officials have flagged Rice-A-Roni boxes that may contain milk products that are not listed on the label, Bio Gaudiano olives stuffed with almonds, and Pangasinan brand smoked seafood products, which are produced in the Philippines and distributed by Pomona-based Foremost Foods, Intl.
The oyster recall involved frozen Korean oysters sold in restaurants and Asian grocery stores.
The oysters were sold under the ASSI brand name and distributed by Korean Farms of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and are believed to be carrying Norovirus, which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.
The virus is highly contagious from the first moment a patient begins to feel ill, the FDA said, and spreads quickly. It is especially likely to spread in nursing homes and day care centers, the agency said.
Anyone who purchased these oysters should throw them away — either in the trash or in the garbage disposal, the FDA said. If you've already eaten them and have not become ill, don't worry about it. But if you do become ill after eating them, consult a doctor, and be aware that the virus is contagious.
Consumers can check the FDA's website for the most current recalls. The agency lists safety concerns not just for food, but also for toys, cosmetics and other items.