As many as 1,925 people, mostly children, in the southern Philippines were hospitalized over the past week with stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and other illnesses after eating the fruit-flavored candy. Almost all have since recovered, with only one remaining in hospital. Philippine Health Secretary Janette Garin appealed for better hygiene standards in the food industry, as she announced test results indicating a bacteria found in human skin and hair likely contaminated the sweets.
Garin said, "This could be because they (candy makers) did not wash their hands, or their sweat dripped into the candy, or the candy touched their armpits, or they didn't wash up after going to the bathroom."
Poor enforcement of food safety regulations has been blamed for the past cases of food poisoning in Philippines, an impoverished nation of 100 million people. Garin further acknowledged, "The government has had a tough time enforcing food safety rules in small towns, where businesses prepare candy, rice cakes and other sweets in their home kitchens. These backyard industries are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The bottom line is, hygiene is often overlooked."
The bacteria identified by Philippines health authority as the likely culprit can be easily neutralized with heat or common sanitizing agents, according to the US FDA's website. However, Garin said, "The laboratory tests on the sweets had not been fully completed, and further testing was underway to check for the presence of pesticides and toxic chemicals."