Stores continue pulling gel candies linked to deaths

The Associated Press
Friday August 17, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Two major grocery chains have pulled a type of imported jelly candy from thousands of supermarkets nationwide after public health officials here warned they were linked to the choking deaths of two children. 

Grocery chain Albertson’s said Thursday the gel candies, sold under the names Fruit Poppers and Gel-ly Drop, will be removed nationwide from all its 2,500 stores.  

Albertson’s first pulled the candies from 195 stores in Northern California on Wednesday. 

“We want to better understand what the health risks are before we put them on our shelves again,” said Stacia Levenfeld, an Albertson’s spokeswoman.  

“The FDA has not given us any indication if these are safe or not.” 

Safeway pulled Jelly Yum brand candies from 200 of its Northern California stores last week. A company spokesman said the chain does not carry the candies in any other region. 

The gel candies, the size of a coffee creamer, are individually packed in small, soft plastic cups and sold in bulk in plastic jars. The brightly colored candies have become popular over the last two years among American kids after they met with success in Asia. The sweet gel usually comes with a piece of fruit inside a shell of conjac jelly that health officials in Hong Kong, Seattle, Ottawa — and most recently the San Francisco Bay Area — have warned does not readily dissolve in the mouth. Some jars carry a labels warning that the candies are not safe for children under age 6, others age 3. 

The candy is linked to the deaths of Deven Joncich, 3, of Morgan Hill in November and Michelle Enrile, 12, of San Jose last month. In both cases, rescue workers said they couldn’t dislodge the sticky gel from the children’s throats. 

The Santa Clara County Department of Public Health at a news conference Wednesday warned the public about the candy, recommending that it be cut in pieces before it’s given to small children. 

“We decided to do something after the death of Michelle on July 30 and after learning of another death in Seattle,” said Joy Alexiou of the county Health Department. “We want to  

make sure parents read those warning labels.”  

A warning label says the candy is unsafe for children under 6 years old. 

Health department officials in King County, Wash., posted a similar advisory on their Web site last summer after a child died from choking on gel candies. 

Around the world, more than a dozen deaths are tied to the candy.  

Most are in Asia, where the candy originated in 1995. In Japan, the candy has gotten the nickname “deadly mouthful.” 

Taiwan-based Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co., the manufacturer of the gel candies blamed for the two deaths in the Bay Area, maintains the candy is safe.  

“Whether it was a mini-fruity gel, a piece of meat, a hot dog, or any hard candy, the result could have been the same,” a company statement said. 

An FDA official said the agency is aware of the situation and continues to look into the two California deaths. But when the FDA will comment on the issue is unclear.