Madrid (EFE).- The withdrawal of packaged potato tortillas from several supermarkets for sanitary reasons has become one of the “star” issues this week. What has happened to them? Is it not safe to eat packaged potato tortilla? What is botulism? We review what is known so far:
What has happened?
The alert voice was given in Italy, on July 11. The country’s authorities notified through the European Union Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) two cases of botulism in people who had consumed packaged potato omelette in Spain.
Three days later, on July 14, it was Madrid and the Valencian Community that notified the National Epidemiological Surveillance Network (Renave) of two other cases compatible with botulism after eating the same food.
It was then that the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) began to investigate the botulism outbreak. The common bond? That those affected had taken in the previous days packaged potato omelette purchased in different supermarkets in various autonomous communities.
Who makes the tortillas?
All eyes are on the Palacios group from La Rioja, which sells tortillas under its brand but is also a supplier for the private label of several supermarket chains, although up to now it has not been possible to establish evidence, neither in the products nor in the processes, that directly relates the product to botulinum toxin.
This same morning the company published a statement in which it urged all consumers who have purchased its packaged tortillas to “refrain from consuming it and proceed to return it to the point of sale where they purchased it, where the amount will be refunded.”
Specifically, it requests not to eat tortillas packaged under the Chef Select, Auchan, Eroski, Unide, Consum, DIA, Ametller, Condis, El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, Alipende and Rikissimo brands.
The company also says it has decided “voluntarily, as a precaution, to remove from the shelves of the points of sale the fresh packaged potato omelette produced in the Mudrián (Segovia) factory, as well as to temporarily stop its manufacture.” However, it maintains that “it has not been possible to establish evidence, neither in the products nor in the processes, that relate cause and effect” with respect to this company as a manufacturer of the product, as the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) stated on Tuesday in an informative note.
The manufacturer, based in La Rioja, is one of the main food companies in Spain and has a turnover of more than 250 million euros per year. Founded in Albelda de Iregua in 1960, it employs more than a thousand people and has five production plants in Spain and one in the United States. The company operates in the categories of sausages and sausages, Spanish tortilla, refrigerated pizzas and frozen pastries.
Where were they sold?
As the manufacturer itself revealed, its tortillas are marketed in various supermarket chains (through its brand but also through other white brands).
The first to announce the withdrawal of their tortillas from the shelves were the Ahorramas and Eroski supermarkets. The Madrid chain reported its decision on Monday the 17th and placed posters in its stores asking those who had purchased to return them for a refund of the amount.
How is the investigation progressing?
Now the investigations continue with the collaboration of the production company. The possibility that there is a product on the market that is not safe or that there are deviations in the production and transport processes that justify the existence of this risk is also being studied.
What is botulism and what are its symptoms?
Botulism is a serious disease that can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. Symptoms begin with fatigue, weakness, and dizziness and continue with blurred vision, dry mouth, dysphagia or dysarthria, and other neurological symptoms that move from the shoulders down.
It is generally caused by the ingestion of food contaminated with toxins produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium and rarely by some strains of Clostridium baratii. It can also be caused by open wounds or cosmetic treatments.
The foods most frequently associated with botulism are homemade preserves, especially vegetables such as chillies in oil, asparagus, green beans; fish, including canned tuna and those that are fermented, salted, and smoked; and meat products.
It is a notifiable disease in Spain and “in the face of an outbreak, the declaration from the communities is urgent.” All samples from the affected cases are being processed at the National Center for Microbiology.
Between 2015 and 2022 inclusive, Spain has detected a total of 88 cases of botulism (which gives an annual average of 11 cases), of which 20 were suspected, 20 probable and 48 confirmed.
According to the WHO, mortality is between 5% and 10% of cases but if they are diagnosed and treated early, most patients recover. Hence the need to act quickly by going to the emergency medical services or calling 112.
How many cases are confirmed?
According to the CCAES, those affected by botulism remain at seven, now with five confirmed -in addition to the one from Madrid, the two Italian citizens who bought one of these tortillas in Valladolid on June 30 and two other people from Asturias and Galicia- and two probable ones, one in Malaga -a 27-year-old person who has not needed hospitalization- and the Valencian Community.
What can you do as a consumer?
The Facua consumer association has called for “clarifying the origin of the outbreak as soon as possible” and has indicated that “obvious” that no tortilla of the brand should be consumed “as a preventive measure regardless of whether they were affected or not.”
The Aesan has already asked the autonomous communities to verify the withdrawal of the tortillas manufactured by the Palacios group from the stores.
The WHO reminds consumers of the importance of respecting basic principles of safety and hygiene. Keep food cold and follow consumption instructions. In the case of packaged potato tortillas, they must be kept refrigerated, never at room temperature.
The AESAN has urged to follow the instructions for use indicated by the manufacturers. These guarantee the safety of the products for which an expiration date is established.
This is especially important in the case of packaged potato tortillas. You may have “the false feeling” that they are like preserves, that they have thermal stability. But keeping them without refrigeration at the current room temperature can lead to health problems.
On the other hand, the Palacios group has made available to the client a telephone line with the number 941 27 77 00 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and the email [email protected] “to clarify any doubts or concerns”.