Pesticide taints Chinese ginger
Christopher Ranch of Gilroy Affected
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, July 31, 2007
State public health officials are warning consumers not to eat fresh ginger from China after inspectors found residues of an illegal insecticide in boxes of the root at an Albertsons grocery store in Roseville.
The chemical, aldicarb sulfoxide, was found on the ginger at concentrations high enough to make a consumer sick, said Glenn Brank, a spokesman for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
"This is not a life-threatening concentration, but it is illegal, and it is at a level where it could make somebody ill," he said.
No illnesses from the chemical have been reported, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Aldicarb sulfoxide is a potent neurotoxin. At high concentrations, it can cause nausea or dizziness. However, it is not carcinogenic.
"Its effects tend to be reversible and short-lived," said Karl Tupper, a staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America, an advocacy group based in San Francisco.
Aldicarb sulfoxide is what's known as a "breakdown product" of the pesticide aldicarb, which means that it is what's left over after aldicarb begins to degrade in the environment. Aldicarb is used to kill aphids, mites and certain flies, as well as flatworms in the soil.
It is approved for use on several crops grown in California, including cotton, some types of beans and pecans. In California, cotton farmers are the biggest users: They applied 99.5 percent of the 228,761 pounds of aldicarb sprayed in the state in 2005, according to state records.
Aldicarb is not approved for use on ginger in California, so any presence of the chemical or its byproducts is illegal, Brank said.
State inspectors found aldicarb sulfoxide during a routine survey. The contaminated ginger is known to have been distributed to 24 Albertsons stores in Northern California, and may have been on store shelves as early as July 10.
Modesto-Based Save Mart Supermarkets, which owns the Albertsons stores in Northern California, pulled all ginger from those locations beginning last Friday, said spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell.
As a precautionary measure, the company also pulled ginger from its Save Mart, S-Mart foods, Food Maxx and Lucky stores, although those stores are not believed to have received the contaminated product.
The company is attempting to purchase ginger from Brazil, Rockwell said. Customers can return ginger purchased between July 10 and July 26 for a refund, she said.
The contaminated ginger was shipped to the Albertsons stores from Christopher Ranch LLC, a Gilroy company better known for its California-grown garlic. Bill Christopher, the managing member of the company, said he purchased the ginger from Modern Trading Inc., a Southern California import firm, which had imported it from a Chinese firm.
Christopher Ranch sells ginger grown on its own farms in Hawaii from November through April, but began importing from China to meet its customers' year-round demands, Christopher said. The company will not sell Chinese ginger in the future, he said.
An employee at Modern Trading declined to comment. The company's owner was not available Monday.
The state Department of Public Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are attempting to trace the ginger sold by Modern Trading to other parts of the country.
State pesticide inspectors do roughly 3,700 tests of produce in stores annually, and find violations in just under 2 percent of samples, said Brank, the state pesticide spokesman. Most, however, are significantly less serious than the current case.
"It's pretty rare that we actually get a sample that has an illegal pesticide on it," he said.