Consumers in at least 10 states have reported finding glass fragments in jars of Gerber baby food in the last week, and Food and Drug Administration officials yesterday cautioned that all food, especially that packaged in glass, should be carefully examined before use.
There is not enough evidence to justify a recall, and no injuries have been reported, the FDA said.
FDA officials and Gerber said there is no evidence of tampering and no apparent pattern to the incidents, which involved glass jars containing at least 10 varieties of strained fruit, fruit juice and vegetables.
FDA spokesman James Greene said the likeliest reason for fragments is breakage during manufacturing or shipping, or chipping of jar rims by consumers attempting to loosen lids. He said he could not discount "the possibility that someone did willfully tamper with the product."
Area health officials were investigating three reports of glass-contaminated baby food in Maryland and two in Virginia. The Maryland incidents, in Middle River, Elkton and Pasadena, involved strained peaches. Lynn Bruffey-Doyle of the Maryland health department said last night that tests had confirmed the presence of glass in two of the containers. Tests on the third jar were not complete.
Details of the Virginia incidents were not immediately available.
[In addition, a Libertytown, Md., woman last night reported the purchase of what she thought was a tainted bottle of Beechnut baby fruit juice. State health officials were to examine the product today, United Press International reported.]
"We're going to get more information from Gerber, but right now we're trying to calm the public by saying that, though the numbers are increasing, there still seem to be very few cases," Greene said.
He said that agency investigators have confirmed that "several pieces" of glass, the largest one-half inch long, were found in two jars in Swainsboro, Ga. The glass appeared to be the kind used in making the jars, but the jars containing the fragments were not cracked or broken, he said.
A Swainsboro woman had reported glass in jars of strained bananas, junior bananas with pineapple and tapioca, and strained carrots. The bananas came from Gerber's Asheville, N.C., plant and the carrots from its Fremont, Mich., plant. FDA officials reviewed Fremont records and found no evidence of breakage during manufacture.
He said FDA and New York state officials probing an incident reported last week in Schenectady were unable to find glass fragments in a jar of strained peaches. Experts at the FDA, Gerber and the state department of agriculture examined the suspected jar and others of the same lot number and found no glass or other evidence of contamination, he said.
Ronald Lovasz, Gerber's director of quality control, said glass in a jar of apple-cherry juice reported by a Miami consumer appears due to "case breakage," in which a jar breaks during shipping. Testing by Gerber revealed stains and shards of glass on the outside of the suspected jar and five others with the same code number but no glass inside the jars, suggesting such an accident.
"All the complaints involve different products and, in all but two instances, single samples. There is no common denominator relating to store location, product source or distribution network," Lovasz said.
A Gerber spokeswoman said the company has not considered switching to plastic jars. "Plastic will not hold the nutrient value," she said. "The flavor leaves . . . . "
Greene said the FDA is investigating additional incidents in Lakeland and Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Bay City, Mich., and Cherokee County, Ga. Local officials reported incidents in New Hampshire, Tennessee, Nebraska and Washington state.
Small glass fragments do not usually injure children, unless pieces are needle-shaped and lacerate the intestines, according to Dr. Benny Kerzner, chairman of the gastroenterology department at Children's Hospital. "If the pieces are small . . . and fairly rounded, the chances of them doing harm are negligible," he said.
Area consumers reporting suspected contamination of baby food should call the FDA in Rockville at 443-1240. Washington residents should also call the city consumer and regulatory affairs department at 727-7260. Maryland residents should call the state health department at 301/225-6036.