'Poisoned' durian candy contaminated with bacteria – DOH

MANILA, Philippines – The durian candy that "poisoned" thousands in Mindanao nearly a week ago tested positive for staphylococcus bacteria, a bacteria commonly found on human skin, the health department said on Thursday, July 16. 

"Ongoing lahat ng tests. Hindi lang nag-focus sa bacteria. We're also awaiting [test results on] contamination from pesticides. Tiningnan lahat ng posibleng mikrobyo. Negatibo po siya sa ibang mikrobyo, positibo sa staphylococcus," Health Secretary Janette Garin said in a news briefing, referring to samples obtained from Wendy's Durian Candy. 

(All the tests are ongoing. We're not only focused on bacteria. We're also awaiting [tests results on] contamination from pesticides. We're looking at all possible bacteria. It's negative for other bacteria, positibo for staphylococcus.)

Garin was referring to the candy brand cited by food poisoning victims in 6 towns and a city in Surigao del Sur. 

"This could be because they [candy makers] did not wash their hands, or their sweat dripped into the candy, or the candy touched their armpits, or they didn't wash up after going to the bathroom," she added.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the common way for food to be contaminated with staphylococcus is through contact with food workers who carry the bacteria. 

Illness from staphylococcal food poisoning can begin as soon as 30 minutes after consumption. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. 

The durian candy was also distributed in Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur.

Janet Aquino, owner of Wendy's Durian Candy, had admitted her company made the candies but pointed to a possible repacking of her products as the cause of the food poisoning.

The Davao City government already ordered the suspension of the candy manufacturer's business permit until the company can provide clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At least 1,925 people in the Caraga region – most of them schoolchildren – were sick after eating fruit-flavored candies manufactured by Wendy's Durian Candy and another manufacturing facility, the name of which was withheld by FDA.

Garin said most of the victims consumed candies from Wendy's Durian Candy. One of the victims is still in the hospital but will be discharged soon. 

"Bottomline is – sometimes people forget – but we must remember that if we are engaged in the business of food production, if we are an employee engaging in food processing, hygiene is very important because the health of those who eat or consume your product depends on you," the secretary said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Jee Y. Geronimo, with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com