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Botulism Associated with Commercially Distributed Kapchunka -- New York City

On August 9, 1985, a Russian immigrant couple, aged 63 and 64 years, presented to a Queens, New York, hospital emergency room complaining of nausea and vomiting of 5 days duration for the husband and 1 day duration for the wife. The wife was admitted and died the following day. The husband was admitted August 10, and died the following day. Botulism was suspected, and serum from the husband was found to be neutralized by trivalent botulinum antitoxin in the mouse test for botulism toxin. An investigation of food items found in the couple's home detected type E botulinal toxin on August 20 in kapchunka, an ungutted, dried, salted whitefish product that is not cooked before eating.

The source of the incriminated kapchunka is thought to be either of two firms, Royal Baltic or Gold Star of Brooklyn, New York, which manufacture kapchunka and distribute it primarily to delicatessens. Both firms have asked stores that sell their products to hold the incriminated product pending the outcome of an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to local sales in New York City, kapchunka was shipped to retail stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The New York City Department of Health has contacted hospitals in the New York City area; FDA has contacted health departments in the other areas where the product was distributed; and the public has been warned about the potential danger of the product through news releases. Reported by E Bell, P Bennett, S Friedman, MD, Div of Preventable Diseases, C Riceberg, Div of Environmental Health Svc, H Baskind, M Beim, C McGiven, M Moynihan, Bureau of Technical Svc, S Shahidi, PhD, Bureau of Laboratories, D Sencer, MD, New York City Health Department; Food and Drug Administration; Enteric Diseases Br, Div of Bacterial Diseases, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Kapchunka was previously implicated as a vehicle for botulism when a California man was affected in 1981 (1). No further cases have been reported in association with the current outbreak, but health personnel in the affected areas should be aware of the potential problem, especially for people in ethnic groups who may eat this product. Requests for testing of serum and stool for botulinal toxin and for trivalent botulinum antitoxin for the treatment of botulism should be made through state health departments.


  1. California Department of Health Services. Botulism alert. California Morbidity (November 6, 1981).

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