York Region public health said Wednesday that lab results are expected at the end of this week to confirm the presence of a plant-based toxin in a spice that is suspected of sickening 12 diners at a Markham, Ont., restaurant last weekend.
The 12 people went to local hospitals Sunday night after eating the same chicken dish from Delight Restaurant and BBQ. Three were still in intensive care as of Wednesday, though public health said their conditions were improving. Another person who had been admitted to the ICU had left hospital.
The public health unit has said they may have been sickened by a food ingredient contaminated with a toxin known as aconite, which is sometimes called wolfsbane or monkshood and is found in herbs, roots or a flower.
“There does not appear to be a significant risk to the public,” York Region public health said in a statement Wednesday, noting that the restaurant was co-operating with the ongoing investigation.
The public health unit said it is working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Ontario’s Ministry of Health to ensure the suspected food ingredient is not available anywhere else, such as in other restaurants and in grocery stores.
Dr. Barry Pakes, the region’s top doctor, said a spice contaminated with the plant-based toxin — which can cause illness severe enough to cause people to go to the hospital within an hour of consumption — is suspected to be behind the poisoning. He told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that the Markham-area retailer that sold the spice has been contacted and it has been removed from shelves, but he did not name the product or the retailer.
Pakes also noted that there was no indication that the contamination was intentional.
On Tuesday, Pakes said the restaurant had been cleared to reopen but public health later said it was reinspecting it on Wednesday, and would allow it to reopen if that inspection was successful. The region didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the status of the investigation as of Wednesday evening.
Symptoms of aconite poisoning include numbness in the face and extremities, severe gastrointestinal distress and an irregular heartbeat.
It can also cause nausea, vomiting, cramping and muscle weakness, and can be fatal if consumed in large enough quantities.
In March, B.C.’s poison information centre and the Fraser Health authority warned the public not to consume Wing Hing-brand sand ginger powder after two people were hospitalized and later recovered.
Pakes has confirmed sand ginger powder is not the suspected spice in the ongoing local investigation.