Cha no Shizuku bars recalled

Soap linked to 471 cases of wheat allergy

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

A mail-order soap has caused at least 471 people to suffer wheat allergy reactions, including unconsciousness, and the distributor and manufacturer are trying to recall millions of the bars while the health ministry is alerting consumers to the dangers.

The allergic reactions linked to the use of Cha no Shizuku (Drop of Tea) soap include swelling, rashes and breathing difficulties, the health ministry said Tuesday, adding that at least one case of a user falling unconscious has been linked to the product out of 66 people who have been hospitalized.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is urging the public to refrain from using Cha no Shizuku soap sold by the Fukuoka Prefecture-based mail-order firm Yuuka Co. between March 2004 and last December. The soap was manufactured by Nara Prefecture-based Phoenix Co.

The number of patients surfaced this week, but Yuuka began alerting customers in October 2010.

Of the 66 people who were hospitalized, six displayed symptoms that were definitely caused by the soap, Eisuke Hikosaka of the ministry’s medicine and food division said, adding it directly caused at least one of the patients to fall unconscious.

The number of victims was provided to the ministry by Yuuka, but there may be more who suffered reactions.

The ministry separately collected data from hospitals but has yet to determine if any figures are duplications. The hospital data indicated 178 users of the soap suffered allergic reactions, of whom 49 had to be hospitalized. Of those hospitalized, 19 were confirmed to have had reactions from using Cha no Shizuku.

Yuuka sold 46.5 million bars to 4.6 million customers between March 2004 and last December. It currently sells soap under the same brand name, but it is now free of wheat-derived substances.

After the health ministry announced in October 2010 that wheat degraded through hydrolysis can cause allergy symptoms, Yuuka sent letters that month to 1.2 million customers who had used the soap, which is green in colork, for two years or more, according to the National Consumer Affairs Center, which is under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Affairs Agency.

Yuuka again sent letters to 1.4 million customers on several occasions from January to April, the center said.

Yuuka and Phoenix began May 20 collecting the soap from wholesalers and others who had purchased it. Ten days later, Yuuka sent letters to all 4.6 million customers to notify them it was recalling the product and to alert them, the center said on its website.