We reported a week ago that the Scandinavian distributor of Hipp Organic Baby Food had recalled Lot #L35655 (use by date of 1.12.08) of Hipp Fruit Purée with Bananas and Peaches* due to the possibility that the product contained Clostridium botulinum.
The recall, which was announced on December 8th, covered product that had been distributed in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Today, Danish doctors, microbiologists and epidemiologists issued a preliminary report on the botulism investigation.
The incident began when a Danish woman noticed that her 4.5-month old was ailing. Five days earlier, the mother had fed her little girl – who was still being breast-fed but was also receiving some supplementary food – three spoonfuls of Hipp banana/peach purée. She noticed at the time that the jar of fruit purée had an unusual smell, and the product appeared to be fermenting.
By the time the baby girl was admitted to hospital, she was constipated, passive, and suckled weakly. She also exhibited weak muscle tone, and an abdominal X-ray revealed a paralytic ileus (i.e., absence of normal intestinal motion). Despite receiving treatment to counteract her symptoms, the baby became progressively worse over a period of eight days, while doctors tried to diagnose her illness. Finally, suspecting infant botulism, her doctors drew a blood sample to check for neurotoxin (by injecting the patient's serum into mice), and cultured a fecal sample for spores of Clostridium botulinum.
No Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin or spores were recovered from the fecal sample, but the baby's serum proved to contain neurotoxin. Doctors administered botulism immune globulin to the baby, and she has responded to the treatment.
Researchers are still trying to determine whether the baby became ill as a result of ingesting Clostridium botulinum spores – as happens from time to time when babies are fed contaminated honey – or whether the jar of fruit purée contained pre-formed neurotoxin.
In addition to the Hipp purée, the mother also had fed her baby a home-made gruel in the days before she became ill. The gruel contained organic corn, buckwheat flour, whole meal with rice and millet, and grapeseed oil. She denied feeding any honey to her baby.
Unfortunately, the suspect jar of fruit purée had been thrown out. Tests carried out on 11 other jars of baby food, four samples of gruel ingredients and a sample of oil have not detected any pre-formed neurotoxin. The lab now is trying to determine whether any of the samples contain spores of Clostridium botulinum.
While it has been determined beyond any doubt that the 4.5-month old baby suffered from botulism, she remains the only reported victim. Investigators don't know – and may never be able to determine – the source of the Clostridium botulinum spores or pre-formed toxin that made her ill.
Nevertheless, as soon as the Hipp fruit purée was identified as a possible source of Clostridium botulinum, the distributor issued its precautionary recall notice. The recall caught the attention of food safety agencies in several countries outside of Scandinavia. Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong all alerted their citizens to the recall, in case individuals had purchased the purée while traveling in Europe and carried it back home with them.
Whether or not Hipp fruit purée proves to have been the source of the problem, this incident is a reminder that one should NEVER use a food that appears to be "off" in any way. Tasting a food – commercial or home-made – that looks or smells odd is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
*Original report indicated that the fruit purée contained "Bananas and Apricots"