FDA warns against eating Uncle Ben’s infused rice after children get sick in three states


Recall issued for Uncle Ben’s infused rice served at schools, restaurants, hospitals and institutions. (Mars FoodService)

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 and headaches and nausea linked to the rice.

Mars Foodservices of Greenville, Miss., is recalling five- and 25-pound bags of Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products. Uncle Ben’s products sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets are not involved. 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.

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 Friday that 34 students and four teachers from three public schools in Katy, Tex., had experienced burning, itching rashes and 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 skin reactions following a school lunch that served an Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice product. The FDA tested rice that was left over 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, flushing, itching and dry skin, an FDA spokeswoman said. Very large doses can cause indigestion and nausea. The FDA did not have confirmation that excess niacin was the cause of the Texas incident.

North Dakota reported that on Oct. 30, three children in a day-care facility 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)

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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