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Paper in Another O.C. Baby Food Jar

August 20, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Gerber baby food products were pulled from the shelves of Southern California Target stores Thursday after a Huntington Beach woman reported discovering a slip of paper inside a jar while feeding her 20-month-old son.

Unlike two recent cases in Irvine -- where threatening notes and an ingredient of the deadly poison ricin were found in baby food jars -- the product did not appear to be contaminated.

"There was nothing written on the paper," said Huntington Beach police Lt. Janet Perez.

A spokesman for the retail chain said the baby food would remain off the shelves until authorities confirmed the food was not contaminated.

The 38-year-old mother told police she bought several four-packs of Gerber's apples and ham in July at the Target on Adams Avenue. She opened one jar Aug. 1 and fed her son a spoonful before finding a slip of paper the size of a fortune cookie message.

The child, who was not taken to a doctor, did not become ill, police said.

The woman put the jar in a plastic bag but didn't report it to police until Tuesday -- 17 days later. Perez said she was uncertain why the woman didn't report it sooner.

Police said the jar would be turned over to the Food and Drug Administration for testing.

Randy Yee, manager of the Huntington Beach store, said he had not received any other complaints of food tampering. In an earlier incident, an Irvine couple found a note wrapped in cellophane inside a jar of Gerber's banana yogurt dessert May 31 while they were feeding their 9-month-old daughter. The note said that the food was contaminated and that the person eating it would die. It also named an Irvine police officer who it implied had placed the notes in the jars.

An identical note was found June 16 after an Irvine man had finished feeding his 11-month-old son. Police found a third note in an unopened baby food jar in the family's pantry.

No one was injured in those incidents. The FDA last month determined that the jars contained mashed castor beans, which carried traces of ricin. No arrests have been made.

Perez said the Huntington Beach discovery was not linked to the tamperings in Irvine.

"Based on the information that we got from Irvine, the notes were wrapped in plastic, and this was not the case here," Perez said. "And there was a specific message in Irvine, and it's not the case here."

Authorities recommend that consumers listen for a popping sound when vacuum-sealed lids are removed from jars and to pour the food onto a dish so it can be inspected.

The Huntington Beach woman told police she could not recall if she heard a pop when she opened the jar.

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