Hungary investigates atropine poisoning linked to caraway seeds

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Caraway seeds. Picture: Getty/Riverlim
Caraway seeds. Picture: Getty/Riverlim

Related tags Hungary Food poisoning

At least 19 people have fallen ill in Hungary due to atropine poisoning in foods containing caraway.

Nemzeti Élelmiszerlánc-biztonsági Hivatal (National Food Chain Safety Office/Nébih) told us that only people in Budapest were affected.

Nébih was informed of the poisonings and the link was discovered after investigations revealed patients consumed food containing spices.

Contamination possible during harvest in Egypt

Contamination of caraway seeds likely occurred during harvest.

The agency said it believes affected product came from Egypt.

Most people received hospital care with symptoms including vision problems, dry mouth, weakness, fatigue, thirst and dizziness.

Nébih said it found high atropine and scopolamine contamination in nine packed caraway products with expiration dates 31-7-2018 for whole and grounded and 19-5-2019 and 31-8-2019 for the grounded version.

These products were packed and distributed by three Hungarian companies: Chili Produkt Fűszerkereskedelmi Kft.-Szeged; Dr. Markovics Antal (individual entrepreneur)-Pécs and Aroma Trans Europe Kft.-Budapest/Tiszakécske.

Atropine and scopolamine are tropane alkaloids that occur naturally in plants including Datura stramonium.

Hungary issued a RASFF notification in March for atropine (16177.6 µg/kg - ppb) and scopolamine (4658.3 µg/kg - ppb) in whole cumin seeds.

The agency also tested the packed, grounded caraway of Ázsia Vegyeskereskedelmi Bt. and found 30% was contaminated with Datura stramonium.

Caraway, grounded, 50g with expiration dates 31-12-2018 and lot numbers L 180605, L 181328, L 181620 and L 181509 and Caraway, grounded, 500g with the same date and lot numbers L 181329 and L 181006 were affected.

Long shelf life

“As these products were on the market, some that were purchased could still be in households, so the Nébih published the details of the spices on its website. The follow-up tests are still being carried out,” ​the agency told us.

“The consumer's precaution is required, and Nébih recommends that consumers should prefer the consumption of whole cumin, and check physically for any contamination beforehand.”

After Nébih’s call for vigilance into the alkaloid content of ingredients used in products, Univer Product Zrt. recalled a variety of baby food.

Testing showed atropine in high levels in one of the ingredients. The final product is still under investigation.  

Univer Brokkoli Főzelék Csirkehússal Bébiétel, 8 hónapos kortól in a glass jar 163g with shelf life or code 31.12.2019.015 17 321, 31.12.2020.015 18.135 or 31.12.2020.015 18.022 are affected.

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