4-Year-Old Sickened After Grocery Sold Recalled Chobani Yogurt, Dad Says

By Jeff Mays on September 26, 2013 6:58am 

HARLEM — A Harlem dad says his 4-year-old son was sickened by tainted yogurt he bought from a local supermarket more than two weeks after a national recall for the product.

Isaac Wheeler, 42, an attorney, said he purchased a carton of Chobani Champions Tubes on Sunday from Best Yet Market at 2187 Frederick Douglass Blvd., between 118th and 119th streets.

The product, which Chobani markets as the "first all-natural Greek yogurt made just for kids," was listed as being on sale in the store's weekly bulletin for $2.88 for a four or eight pack.

Upon eating half a tube of the yogurt on Monday morning, Wheeler said his son, Zachary, told him that it tasted "fizzy." Wheeler said his son was up all night Tuesday into Wednesday morning with cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The boy's doctors are awaiting test results.

"I feel like it's negligent not to clear unsafe food products off of your shelf," said Wheeler, who was also upset that the product was put on sale instead of tossed. "This is something that is marketed to kids."

Wheeler said he and his wife Lynn have filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration.

On Sept 5., Chobani, headquartered upstate in New Berlin, N.Y., voluntarily recalled some products made in its Twin Falls, Idaho plant because they had been contaminated with the mold Mucor circinelloides, according to a statement.

Chobani is the best-selling yogurt brand in the country.

On Tuesday, Best Yet Market had a sticker outside the freezer warning consumers about the Chobani recall. Wheeler says he doesn't recall seeing the sticker when he purchased the yogurt on Sunday.

In an email sent to Wheeler Wednesday morning, Rebecca Philbert, president and CEO of Best Yet Market, said that the store had taken the proper precautions.

"We have confirmed that our Harlem store followed the instructions for the product recall that was provided by Chobani. Additionally our Harlem store still has the recall notice posted to alert our customers who may have purchased the items in question," Philbert wrote.

 The yogurt tubes that Isaac Wheeler purchased were filled with gases and puffed out like balloons Wednesday night. His son Zachary recoiled at the sight of the yogurt. "I'm not going to eat anymore yogurt because I don't want to get sick," he told his grandmother.
The yogurt tubes that Isaac Wheeler purchased were filled with gases and puffed out like balloons Wednesday night. His son Zachary recoiled at the sight of the yogurt. "I'm not going to eat anymore yogurt because I don't want to get sick," he told his grandmother.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

"As for the advertising of Chobani products, our stores have been replenished with fresh product from Chobani that were not a part of this recall," she wrote.

When contacted by DNAinfo New York, a Best Yet employee at its corporate headquarters in Bethpage, N.Y. who declined to give her name said all of the recalled products in question had been removed from the shelves but that a district manager would follow up to make sure.

Chobani, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, said in a statement connected to the recall that the product made up less than 5 percent of its production and that the mold "is not considered a foodborne pathogen."

Randy Worobo, a professor of food science in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a leading expert on food spoilage and microbial food safety, said in a statement on the university's website that the mold in question “should not pose a health risk to most consumers."

That hasn't stopped hundreds of reports of illness from people who say they consumed the yogurt.

Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, said there have been 294 unconfirmed reports nationwide of illness from the tainted yogurt.

"It should be off the shelves," Burgess said.

Chobani has not explained how the yogurt was contaminated, but said the mold is found commonly in the dairy environment.

Critics have said Chobani's response has been inadequate and confusing as consumers complained of bulging yogurt packages and illnesses.

"Hundreds of people have reported the same symptoms to the FDA — nausea, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea — that Chobani claims should not result from ingesting this mold," Wheeler said.

"All I have received from them is a boilerplate response promising me replacement coupons," he added. "My child is very sick, and I don't trust that they are being honest with the public."

Days after Wheeler's son ate the tainted yogurt, he still had a lingering fear of new uncontaminated containers, recoiled at the sight of a Chobani tube.

"I'm not going to eat any more yogurt because I don't want to get sick," he told his grandmother.

Asked how he felt by his mom Lynn, Zachary said, "Not so well."

Zachary's mother said Best Yet Market should have ensured all the products were removed from the store's refrigerators.

"When we complained, Best Yet told us they put up a sign," she said. "I don't understand why they think that made it OK to sell us tainted food 17 days after it was recalled."

The Chobani products in question have the code 16-012 with "Best by" dates "9/11/2013 – 10/7/2013." The FDA says anyone with questions about the Chobani recall should call their local FDA recall coordinator, whose contact information can be found at www.fda.gov.

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