Tofu lovers beware. The city Department of Health is warning that a tainted batch of fresh, unrefrigerated tofu has led to one confirmed case of potentially deadly botulism in Queens.
The DOH also suspects another case may also be botulism, a rare foodborne illness that can cause death. There have been no other cases in the city in the past 15 years.
Investigators say that both patients are Chinese-speaking residents who recently bought the tofu from the same store in Flushing, which has not been named. The tainted food, which was not made at the store, and its source remain under investigation.
DOH officials said this type of tofu is sold in an open, water-filled bin and is “highly suspected” to be the source of the two cases, but that has not yet been confirmed.
Until the source is located, the city recommends that all individuals discard fresh bulk tofu that has been kept at room temperature at the time of purchase from any store in the five boroughs.
This type of tofu is often fermented and made into a popular Chinese dish known as stinky tofu. But health officials say cooking it is not a definite safeguard against botulism. Only pre-packaged tofu products which are refrigerated are safe.
Botulism affects the nervous system, and symptoms can include blurred or double vision, weakness or paralysis, poor reflexes, difficulty swallowing and speaking and difficulty breathing. Symptoms usually occur 12 to 36 hours after eating, but may take several days to appear.
The DOH tells residents if they experience symptoms to consult a physician immediately. If untreated, botulism can be fatal. The tofu is being tested for the bacteria clostridium botulinum.
There are about 110 cases of botulism caused by clostridium botulinum a year in the United States. Most are in infants who have ingested honey or corn syrup.