Health officials are investigating a Toronto-area restaurant feared to have served a toxic ingredient that sent some customers to hospital this past weekend.
“The Regional Municipality of York is currently investigating reports of several individuals becoming seriously ill following a meal at a restaurant in the City of Markham,” said Dr. Barry Pakes, the regional medical officer of health. His statement Monday added that “at this time, we are unable to confirm the number of individuals hospitalized or the potential cause of the severe illness.”
Some doctors in Toronto, however, are expressing fears that the eatery may be the latest food seller in North America to have potentially exposed its customers to what is known as aconite poisoning. The flowering plant and its root contain toxins which, if consumed, can cause immediate and severe reactions ranging from facial numbness to abnormal heartbeats that can be fatal. Though toxic, aconite is still used in Chinese herbal medicine. But processing methods usually neutralize its ill effects.
Toronto-area hospitals are not saying how many patients they are admitting or what conditions they are contending with. “Oak Valley Health is not able to confirm any information about patients due to our privacy obligations,” said Amanda Sexton, a spokeswoman for the hospital group in York Region.
Dr. David Juurlink, head of toxicology at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, posted on Twitter Monday that hospitals were warned over the weekend to look out for symptoms consistent with aconite poisoning. “Hearing reports of a mass poisoning event related to a Markham restaurant, possibly involving aconite,” he said.
The restaurant has been shut down pending investigation. The Delight Restaurant & BBQ had last passed a public-health inspection in the spring and it is co-operating with the probe.
Staff who were present at the restaurant Monday would not open the door to answer questions from a Globe and Mail reporter.
Records show the restaurant was relaunched and rebranded a year ago. People who are patrons describe it as a popular local eatery. “A couple of days ago we saw a lot of people inside. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant,” said Yvonne Wong, who lives nearby.
Health officials want customers to get rid of any restaurant food still in their fridges and to get to a hospital if they have any symptoms. “Individuals who had dine-in, takeout and delivery; please throw out any leftovers or takeout from the restaurant,” Dr. Pakes said.
In 2017, public health officials in San Francisco warned that two people were “critically ill and remain hospitalized after consuming herbal tea that contained Aconite, a lethal poison.”
That statement said the two had bought tea from the same herbalist before each “quickly developed weakness, and then life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, requiring resuscitation and intensive hospital care.”
Public health officials in the Vancouver-area reported another aconite poisoning case involving an imported cooking powder earlier this year.
“Two people presented to hospital in early February  with heart irregularities after consuming the product,” the Fraser Health authority said.
The B.C. public health officials put out statements in Chinese and English saying they had seized that powder from stores. The messages added that customers needed to throw out the cooking powder. “Roots of the plant, which look very similar to ginger root, contain the toxin aconitine that can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, irregular ventricular contractions, and in severe cases, death.”
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