Children in Hamburg daycare center poisoned with glutamate?

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Kindergarten children suffer from poisoning symptoms after lunch and had to be hospitalized as a precaution. Doctors suspect the taste enhancer glutamate as a possible trigger.

Update: In the meantime, the health authorities from Hamburg announced that glutamate syndrome was not the cause.

In a Hamburg daycare center, several children showed symptoms of intoxication after lunch and were taken to a hospital as a precaution. The police are investigating the initial suspicion of negligent assault.

After eating cheese spaetzle and tomato sauce for lunch, several children in the St. Petri church kindergarten developed swelling and redness. The symptoms of eight children between the ages of ten and 27 months were reported, and one child also suffered from respiratory tract irritation, the daycare supervisors report. After the first signs appeared, the carers immediately alerted the emergency call and contacted the parents of the children.

Eight children hospitalized with signs of intoxication
Shortly before twelve o'clock the supervisor's call came in. Eight ambulances, an emergency doctor and a fire truck with a total of 24 emergency services then set off towards the St. Petri church kindergarten. "The emergency doctor was there as a precaution," because "he should look at the children straight away," emphasized fire department spokesman Martin Schneider. However, according to the rescue workers, there was "at no time a risk to life" for the adolescents. How the symptoms of poisoning were triggered has so far been a mystery to both the caregivers and the rescue workers. The tomato sauce suspected of being the trigger was immediately sent to a hygiene institute, which is now to clarify whether the sauce was possibly contaminated. The police are investigating the initial suspicion of negligent assault. "There is suspicion of negligent assault," emphasized Commissioner Karina Sadowsky. So far, this has primarily been directed against the caterer, who is currently responsible for the daily delivery of food to the daycare center.

Kirchenkreis concerned about the symptoms of intoxication In view of the symptoms of intoxication among the children, the spokeswoman for the responsible church district of Hamburg-Ost appeared; Susanne Gerbsch is extremely concerned: "We are very affected by this incident and hope that the cause of this irritation will be found as soon as possible," emphasized Gerbsch. The spokeswoman for the church circle added: "We are pleased that all children are safe with their parents again and do not need further treatment." Gerbsch explained that lunch is usually prepared in the St. Petri daycare center, but this is currently due to illness Personnel shortages are not possible. For example, this week, those responsible used the service of a catering company with which the association of parishes has said that it has already worked more frequently. So far, the "high-quality meals designed for children" have always been to the satisfaction of those responsible, Gerbsch explained. After yesterday's incident, the church district immediately informed all facilities in the church congregation, which also obtain from the Essen company. However, none of them had any similar occurrences. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, another caterer was commissioned until the results of the Hygiene Institute are available, the spokeswoman for the church district reported.

Caterer cannot explain the symptoms of intoxication The caterer was shocked by the symptoms of intoxication among the young children after eating his food delivery. The company delivered 1,800 servings on Tuesday, with 65 going to the St. Petri day care center. However, even after research, no similar symptoms could be found in the other delivery locations, reports the caterer. Nowhere else has there been a comparable reaction. The caterer emphasized that all of his dishes are cooked exclusively with organic products and that no one in the company can explain the incident. The catering company also wants the food suspected to be examined on its own initiative.

Emergency doctor suspects glutamate to be the cause According to the first assumptions of the emergency doctor, the cause of the poisoning symptoms could be an overdose of the flavor enhancer glutamate in the tomato sauce. The children's symptoms essentially corresponded to the so-called "Chinese restaurant syndrome" (term for glutamate intolerance). For decades, researchers have been studying the phenomenon that restaurant visitors often describe after eating in a Chinese restaurant. Ten to 20 minutes after eating, there is dry mouth, reddened skin areas with heat sensation, facial muscle stiffness, itching in the throat, headache in the area of ​​the temples, neck stiffness, body aches and nausea. Glutamate is primarily suspected of being responsible for the symptoms.

Poisoning symptoms correspond to a glutamate intolerance According to the experts, the active ingredient glutamate, which is often used as a flavor enhancer, has a direct influence on the metabolic processes of nerve cells as a neurotransmitter and could have a harmful effect on nerve cells if the cellular concentrations are excessive. In extreme cases, the nerve cells die, which means that at high concentrations, glutamate is apparently neurotoxic. However, glutamate is not only used as an artificial flavor enhancer in industrially manufactured foods, but is naturally also found in many unprocessed foods (e.g. tomatoes) or little-modified foods (e.g. cheese) with relatively high concentrations. Whether the poisoning symptoms were actually triggered by glutamate will be decided in the coming days by the Hygiene Institute's investigations. (fp)

Also read:
Ecotest: Glutamate & germs found in cooked ham
Nausea and headache from glutamate

Image: Jürgen Frey /

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