Ground castor beans put in tampered baby food jars

Domestic terror scare does not involve refined ricin

In what appears to be a relatively crude attempt at domestic bioterrorism, ground-up remnants of castor beans were found in two baby food jars in Irvine, CA.

Although ricin can be purified through chemical extraction processes from castor beans, the material found in these jars was far less toxic than purified ricin, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported.

Contrary to the impression given by some early reports, the FDA did not find purified ricin in the baby food jars, the agency stressed in a news release posted on its web site.

To date, no injuries have been reported, and the problems seem to be isolated within the immediate Irvine area. Nevertheless, consumers who find anything suspicious concerning the packaging or contents of baby food products should not feed it to anyone, but instead notify their local FDA office.

Look for lid safety

As with all baby foods, caregivers should carefully examine all food product packaging, including such anti-tampering devices as "lid safety buttons." According to a published report in the Orange County Register, a 47-year-old transient man was being sought for questioning in the case. Two sets of parents found threatening notes inside jars of Gerber Banana Yogurt Dessert fed to their infants. A third jar containing the same note couldn’t be tested because one father washed out the food after his 11-month-old son had eaten some. The boy and a 9-month-old girl who ate from a separate jar were not harmed.

Notes inside the jars, purchased May 31 and June 16 at an Irvine supermarket were wrapped in cellophane. They implied that an Irvine police officer had planted the message. Confirmation of the mashed castor beans took weeks because the food was sent to the Orange County Crime Lab for forensic analysis and then to the FDA to test for chemical contents, officials said.

For more information on food tampering, go to FDA’s web page at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fstamper.html.