By Lena H. Sun
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is warning against eating Uncle Ben’s rice products served at schools, restaurants, hospitals and other food service institutions after children in three states suffered burning, itching rashes, headaches and nausea linked to the rice.
Mars Foodservices, of Greenville, Miss., is recalling 5- and 25-pound bags of the rice, known as Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products. Uncle Ben’s products sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets are not involved in the recall. Although the recalled product is not typically marketed to individual consumers, it may be available over the Internet and at warehouse-type retailers.
A statement from Mars Foodservices said the illnesses may be related to high levels of niacin, or Vitamin B3, in the rice.
“It appears that the reaction may be related to an excessive amount of niacin enrichment of the product,” the statement said. Enrichment of rice with niacin is required under federal and state standards, it said.
The statement said the affected products are manufactured separately and sold through wholesale distribution channels. It said the company is working with the FDA to investigate the illnesses.
The FDA said it was notified Feb. 7 that 34 students and four teachers from three public schools in Katy, Tex., had experienced burning, itching rashes, headaches and nausea for 30 to 90 minutes after eating the rice. The symptoms eventually went away. The common food eaten by the ill students was Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor.
In December, a similar incident took place in Illinois, when 25 students had similar skin reactions following a school lunch that served an Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice product. The FDA tested rice that was leftover from the Illinois school lunch and found an increased amount of niacin in the rice.
Overexposure to niacin can lead to skin reactions such as redness and flushing, itching and dry skin, an FDA spokeswoman said. Very large doses can cause indigestion and nausea.
“There is no confirmation at this time that the Texas incident was caused by excess niacin,” spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said.
On Oct. 30, North Dakota reported a similar incident. Three children in a daycare and one college student experienced flushing reactions 45 minutes after eating an Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice product.
Mars Foodservices is recalling all bags and all lot numbers of its Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products produced in 2013:
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Roasted Chicken Flavor (5- and 25-pound sizes)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Garlic & Butter Flavor (5-pound size)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Mexican Flavor (5- and 25-pound sizes)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Pilaf (5-pound size)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Saffron Flavor (5-pound size)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Cheese Flavor (5-pound size)
-UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Spanish Flavor (25-pound size)