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FDA Investigates Illnesses linked to Uncle Ben's Infused Rice

Posted February 12, 2014

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What is the Problem and What is Being Done about It?

The FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local officials have been investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor sold in 5- and 25-pound bags. 

On Feb. 7, 2014, the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network (CORE) was notified of a cluster of illnesses at three public schools in Katy, Texas. Twenty-nine students experienced burning, itching rashes, headaches and nausea for 30 to 90 minutes, before the symptoms went away. Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor with the lot number 351EKGRV01, made by Mars Foodservices of Greenville, Miss., was the common food item eaten by ill students.

In late 2013, the FDA, CDC and and state and local authorities investigated two similar incidents.  On Dec. 4, 2013, the Illinois Department of Public Health notified CDC of 25 children with similar skin reactions following a school lunch that served an Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice product. The most common skin reactions experienced were flushing on the ears, arms and neck. These reactions occurred within 30 minutes after consuming the product. All of the children recovered within 90-120 minutes. To determine if incidents similar to the one in Illinois had recently occurred, CDC contacted other state health officials. North Dakota reported an incident that occurred on Oct. 30, 2013. Three children in a daycare and one college student experienced flushing reactions 45 minutes after consuming an Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice product. 

FDA tested rice that was leftover from the Illinois school lunch, and the results of this testing showed an increased amount of niacin, or Vitamin B3, in the rice.

Overexposure to niacin can lead to skin reactions such as redness and flushing, itching, and dry skin. Certain populations, such as children, may be more susceptible to these effects. Mars Foodservices agreed to recall the specific Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor product involved in the Illinois incident, which was from a different production lot than that linked to the illnesses in Texas.

The presence of increased levels of niacin has not been confirmed in the bags and lot numbers involved in the Texas incident. FDA is still investigating the Texas incident.

Mars Foodservices is recalling all bags and lot numbers of its Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products produced in 2013.  Although this product is not typically marketed to individual consumers, it may be available over the Internet and at warehouse-type retailers.

Uncle Ben’s Brand Ready to Heat, Boxed, Bag or Cup products sold at grocery stores and other retail outlets are not being recalled.

Investigation into this outbreak continues. 

What are the Symptoms of Illness/Injury?

The symptoms associated with this illness include a red burning/itching rash, headache, nausea, and flushness of the skin.

The symptoms appear very shortly after consuming the rice product and pass within 30 to 90 minutes.

What Specific Products are being Recalled?

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-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Garlic & Butter Flavor (5-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Mexican Flavor (5- and 25-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Pilaf (5-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Saffron Flavor (5-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN’S INFUSED Rice Cheese Flavor (5-pounds)
  • UNCLE BEN'S INFUSED Rice Spanish Flavor (25-pounds)

The products are sold directly to food service companies that typically distribute to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other establishments. The products have also been found over the Internet, including Amazon and warehouse-type retailers, such as Sam’s Club.

Who is at Risk?

People of any age can experience symptoms. The illnesses in Texas included people of different ages (children and adults).

What Do Food Service Companies and Consumers Need To Do? 

Food service companies and consumers who may have purchased the products should not use the rice, and should return it to their distributor or point of purchase or dispose of it. 

What Does the Product Look Like?

Photos of Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products can be seen here:

Who Should be Contacted? 

Contact your health care provider if you have sudden nausea, headaches or a burning/itching rash after eating Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products.

The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. eastern time, or to consult the website:

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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