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FDA Investigating Pine Nut Syndrome; Many Blame Chinese Imports For Leaving Bad Taste

6:55 AM, May 19, 2010   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Ron Simon describes the problem this way: "The taste in my mouth after breakfast was horrible... it was a tin foil aftertaste."

Jessica Simon agrees, saying, "It was a really extreme metallic taste. I couldn't even drink a glass of water."

To make matters worse, Ron Simon says, "You can't eat anything for two weeks and have it taste normal."

The owners of Silver Spring pet store Living Ruff say the problems started a couple of days after the couple ate a small amount of pine nuts they purchased at Trader Joe's around Easter.

Jessica Simon says at first "I just thought I was getting sick." Then, looking for answers, she turned to the internet. She typed in the key words "bitter" and "aftertaste" and "Google popped it up, Pine Nut syndrome," according to Ron Simon.

Nutritionist Peter Jo says there's more speculation than science about the cause of this growing food sensitivity. He says, "Some have speculated that perhaps some of the oils (in the pine nuts) have gone rancid or there's some chemical in there that is triggering some sort of aberrant response in that individual." There does not appear to be a health risk associated with the aftertaste.

Ron Simon, along with hundreds of online complainants, believes increased pine nut imports from China are to blame. He says of Chinese food suppliers: "Are they doing something differently? One report that I read said 'yes' they are. They are processing the pine nuts differently."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating what's causing Pine Mouth. The agency's Michael Herndon tells 9NEWS NOW it received 53 complaints in the past year, with two reports of stomach problems and the rest reported taste disturbances.

Herndon says, "A complaint guidance was issued to our FDA field offices last September." It instructs offices to gather samples to then be sent to a FDA laboratory for research. Herndon says the FDA hopes "the information obtained from consumers and the analytical results will help to determine what causes the problem and if additional action is necessary."

Some of the large food chains are acknowledging the problem, as well. Costco Vice President Craig Wilson tells 9NEWS NOW the company has been consulting with the FDA about the complaints it has received and is currently running tests of its own on pine nut samples at a lab in Livermore, California.

Another search of the internet turns up an apology from Trader Joe's, saying it is aware that the problem is happening more and more.

For its part, Bill Greer of the Food Marketing Institute tells 9NEWS NOW that the food industry is waiting on the FDA before making any changes.

Whatever the reason, Jessica Simon is making a change. She says, "I can live without pesto. Or maybe Ill try another nut." But she does not plan on eating pine nuts anytime soon.

Written by Jessica Doyle
9NEWS NOW & wusa9.com

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