The food-poisoning scare centered on frozen “gyoza” meat and vegetable dumplings from China spread nationwide Thursday as the number of reported victims rose to at least 451 in 35 prefectures.
It has not been confirmed, however, if the claims of illness, including dizziness and nausea, filed with public health centers or other institutions nationwide by more than 400 people who said they have eaten the products, are linked to the pesticide earlier detected in one of the products.
The health ministry hastily compiled a nationwide database on food poisoning cases allegedly related to the dumplings after it was reported Wednesday that 10 people in two prefectures who ate them had been sickened by pesticide found inside.
Food companies are withdrawing products supplied by the Chinese company, Tianyang Food, based in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, that reportedly made the suspect dumplings.
Skylark Co., a major family-style restaurant chain, said it will stop using processed food from China — mainly frozen fried seafood — at the group’s roughly 3,300 outlets. Some major department stores said they are also considering pulling made-in-China vegetables, fruit and frozen foods from their shelves.
The Chinese government meanwhile said preliminary tests carried out on samples of frozen dumplings made by Tianyang Food have shown no traces of pesticide.
Chinese authorities also said they have ordered the company to halt production and exports, and to recall all of its products, both domestically and overseas.
Gyoza, called “jiaozi” in Chinese, are dumplings made of thinly rolled pieces of dough wrapped around fillings of ground meat and vegetables. Preliminary reports from health centers said dozens of victims had complained of falling ill after eating Chinese-made gyoza.
The products in question were made by Tianyang Food and imported by Tokyo-based JT Foods Co., a subsidiary of Japan Tobacco. JT Foods has announced it will pull all products made by Tianyang Food from store shelves.
In the Diet, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told consumers not to eat any of the products being pulled from store shelves.
“Please check your refrigerator and never eat the food products,” Masuzoe said. “This is a life-threatening matter. The government must exert the utmost effort to prevent further damage.”
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda also stressed the need to review the channels of communications between related institutions in such cases. It took about one month before the first confirmed poisoning case in Chiba was reported to the health ministry.
Food-poisoning reports connected with the dumplings have been flooding into local health centers across the country after the initial cases were reported Wednesday. Later that day, seven other people, in Akita, Saitama, Kanagawa and Kumamoto prefectures, also reported falling ill after consuming the gyoza.
Fresh reports involving hundreds of more people came in Thursday from across Japan, including the prefectures of Hokkaido, Aomori, Fukushima, Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Ishikawa, Aichi, Kochi, Osaka, Hyogo, Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Okinawa.
Prefectural offices nationwide are busy checking the reports to see if they were caused by the gyoza or other products made by the Chinese producer.
Masuzoe also said the ministry is ready to revise the law to plug loopholes in current food industry regulations.
Senior officials from the Cabinet Office, the health ministry, the agriculture ministry and the National Police Agency are teaming up on the matter and have agreed to work together to prevent the damage from spreading and to find the cause.
The health ministry also released the same day the names of 19 Japanese firms that had imported products other than dumplings from Tianyang Food and urged them through local governments to stop selling them.
Many of the products were not final products for consumption, but processed beef, pork and other ingredients used by restaurants.
Among the 19 firms, eight are based in Tokyo, another eight in Osaka, one in Hyogo, one in Aichi and one in Shizuoka, the ministry said.
On Thursday, three more food companies announced they will pull products made by Tianyang Food — Maruha Corp., Nippon Meat Packers Inc. and Nihon Shokken Co.
Maruha, Nippon Meat Packers and Nihon Shokken, which are not among the 19, said their products use materials made by the Chinese producer.
Major frozen food company Katokichi Co. also said Wednesday it will withdraw 18 products manufactured by Tianyang Food.
It was also revealed Thursday that several kindergartens and elementary and junior high schools in Akita and Tochigi prefectures have served food products subject to recall by JT Foods.
None of the schools has reported any health problems related to the lunches, Tochigi and Akita officials said.
In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that quality inspectors have carried out tests on two batches of frozen dumplings made by Tianyang Food, but found no trace of any harmful chemicals.
The samples tested were from gyoza produced on Oct. 1 and 20 last year, which were when the products consumed in Japan were made, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.