IRVINE, California (AP)—Authorities found ground-up castor beans with trace amounts of the poison ricin in two jars of baby food that had been tampered with, officials said Wednesday.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials who tested the baby food said the ricin was not in the purified form that can be deadly. Rather, it was a less toxic, natural component of the castor beans.
"It's unlikely there would be serious injury with the level of castor bean found in those two jars we tested," said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer with the FDA's Center for Food, Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Small amounts of the food were eaten, but the babies had no symptoms, he said.
The FBI and Orange County District Attorney's Office were investigating the discoveries as cases of food tampering. No injuries or arrests have been reported, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Authorities have not disclosed a possible motive. In Washington, two federal law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity because of agency policy said there was no evidence of any widespread ricin contamination of baby food.
Ricin is made from castor beans and can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or injected. A dose about the size of the head of a pin could be enough to kill an adult, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On June 16, a man told Irvine police that as he was about to feed his son, he found a note inside a jar of baby food warning that it had been contaminated. A similar case was reported by an Irvine couple on May 31 involving the same baby food, Gerber Banana Yogurt, police said. A note was also found inside that jar.
Investigators were testing Gerber Banana Yogurt removed from the store where both jars were purchased.
Authorities did not disclose the contents of the notes but said they referred to an Irvine police officer.
The Gerber Products Co., based in Parsippany, New Jersey, is working with investigators. Authorities told the company the contamination "absolutely" occurred after the food was manufactured, said Gerber spokeswoman Terry Boylan.
Gerber baby food jars are vacuum sealed and should pop when opened. If they don't, it could indicate they have been tampered with, Boylan said.
The FBI still is trying to determine how ricin turned up in a U.S. Senate mailroom. The February 2 discovery led to the shutdown of three Senate office buildings for several days and forced some staff and police to undergo decontamination procedures.
Also still unsolved are two letters found last year in postal facilities that contained vials of ricin and were signed by a mysterious "Fallen Angel," who objected to new government rules for longhaul truckers. One of those letters was addressed to the White House and was intercepted by the Secret Service.
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