Local grocery stores were minus Chilean fruit from their shelves Tuesday because of the threat of cyanide poisoning.
"It is too bad, because the stuff is good produce, but you can't be too careful," said Del Alberico, produce manager for the Dan's Store, at 3735 S. Ninth East.The voluntary local fruit purge is part of a national ban called for by the federal Food and Drug Administration, after terrorist threats of cyanide poisoning of Chilean fruit were received at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile. FDA officials Monday night called for the fruit to be removed from grocery store shelves - in what is thought to be the largest food ban in the feder
al agency's history - after two cyanide-contaminated grapes were found in Philadelphia.
Steve Hilton, manager of corporate quality assurance for Albertson's stores, said $200,000 worth of produce has been retained at the company's warehouses, while individual stores are pulling fruit off the shelves. He estimates the company's 500 stores will lose at least $500,000.
"The produce industry sure has been taking some shots lately. It's just been a tough time for the industry."
Jim Dodge, produce buyer for Smith's Food and Drug Stores, said Chilean fruit has been removed from store shelves.
An anonymous phone call placed March 2 to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago reported that fruit was being poisoned, and FDA began testing fruit after the threat was received. Results that the two seedless red grapes were laced with cyanide were confirmed this week.
FDA spokesman Chris Lecos said cyanide is a fast-acting poison, so consumers shouldn't worry about fruit they've eaten in the past. Cyanide poisoning symptoms include headaches, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, convulsions and a blue tongue and mouth.
The two poisoned grapes were marked by punctures and were discolored with a crystalline ring around the holes.
The South American country is the predominant fruit supplier to the United States this time of year. The FDA said grapes make up two-thirds of Chile's fruit shipments, but other Chilean fruits to be wary of include peaches, pears, plums, berries, Granny Smith apples, nectarines, seedless watermelon and melons.