Victims of Quorn Poisoning Appeal to FDA Commissioner

"I broke out in hives and could feel my throat swelling and breathing was getting hard," wrote one woman.


A spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration recently told the Wall Street Journal that the agency had heard from just seven consumers who had adverse reactions to Quorn, the line of meat substitutes made from vat-grown soil mold. That small number was puzzling to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, since the food safety watchdog group had forwarded hundreds of such adverse reaction reports to the FDA over the years—reports that typically included some combination of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, or difficulty breathing.

To make sure that the FDA realizes the scope of the problem with Quorn, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson asked consumers who became ill after eating the fungus-based faux meat to write directly to Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of the FDA. The accounts provided by the consumers are harrowing—and include blackouts, ruined clothing, burst blood vessels, explosive diarrhea, and missed days of work. Many expressed their disappointment that the FDA hasn’t removed Quorn from the market or required prominent warning notices.

“Gut wrenching,” is how 60-year-old Pacific Grove, Calif., resident Andrea Carter described her illness after she and her partner ate Quorn cutlets. “I had the most severe vomiting I had ever experienced.” Carter was so sick she had to miss work on the very day her employer was holding a retirement party for her.

“I’ve always been called the person with the iron stomach, because nothing ever bothers me,” wrote Tayba Tahir, a university administrator in Akron, Ohio. Tahir became ill twice before realizing it was the Quorn that was causing her illness. “The first time, I experienced such violent bouts of vomiting that I threw up and the blood vessels in my eyes burst.” The next time, she was found unconscious on the bathroom floor by a family member.

Some Quorn eaters described symptoms more characteristic of anaphylactic shock, including hives and difficulty breathing.

“About half an hour after my meal, my throat started to itch, and then my skin,” Zarina Khan wrote to Hamburg. “I broke out in hives and could feel my throat swelling shut and breathing was getting hard.” Khan, who had eaten Quorn Chik’n Tenders induced vomiting and took antihistamines to make those symptoms stop.

Port Saint Lucie, FL, computer professional David Popovich complained both to Quorn and to retailer Whole Foods after falling ill after eating Quorn Turk’y Roast for Christmas dinner in 2007. “The most frightening response was the tightness in my chest—I felt like I could not breathe.” Quorn conceded in an email to Popovich that “It would appear that you may have experienced a cross-reaction to the mycoprotein present in Quorn products.”

Karen Koijane of Las Vegas, Nev., wrote that within an hour or two of eating a Quorn burger, “I was vomiting and lying on the floor of my bathroom trembling.” She related to Dr. Hamburg how she takes the time to warn people in the grocery store when she sees them eyeing Quorn products, and urged the commissioner to “Please use your position and influence to at the very least warn them as well.”

Jacobson says the FDA erred in 2001 by allowing Quorn to be sold in the U.S. even after the agency had seen company studies showing that the meat substitute made some people ill. CSPI first called on the FDA to take Quorn off the market in 2002.

“Quorn was a brand new food, never eaten by humans until fairly recently, so it was striking that the FDA was not more cautious about it at time,” said Jacobson. “Now we know that Quorn causes great inconvenience and misery—and life-threatening reactions—to those people who are allergic to this particular fungus.”

Quorn executive David Wilson told The Wall Street Journal that one person in between 100,000 and 200,000 might have a “sensitivity” to Quorn. But a CSPI-commissioned telephone survey found that nearly 5 percent of consumers in Great Britain, where Quorn has longer been available, reported being allergic to the fungus-based meat.

“I remain angry and mystified that it is still for sale,” retired nurse Sue Zerangue of Astoria, OR, wrote in an email to the FDA. “I fully support efforts to remove this dangerous product from the food supply.”

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