York Public Health is warning consumers against ingesting or using two products as part of its investigation into unintentional poisonings at a Markham restaurant over the weekend.
The health agency recommends immediately throwing out:
Mr. Right brand keampferia galanga powder (product code: AT119 or AT154) , a spice commonly used in various types of Asian cooking.
Mr. Right brand radix aconiti kusnezoffii powder (product code AT154), a product used as a traditional herbal medicine.
In a statement, York Public Health said it believes the galanga powder may be contaminated with aconite — a substance sometimes known as wolf's bane, monkshood or the queen of poisons — that can severely affect the nervous system. Symptoms include numbness in the face and extremities, severe gastrointestinal distress and, in some cases, an irregular heartbeat. Ingested in large enough quantities, aconite can induce fatal arrhythmia of the heart.
The radix aconiti kusnezoffii powder is a form of aconite, harvested from the roots, stems and flowers of a specific genus of plants, that has been specifically prepared for use as a traditional medicine.
That preparation usually includes boiling parts of the plants for several hours to reduce their toxicity, according to a a teacher at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine who spoke to CBC News earlier this week.
York Public Health confirmed in another statement that the Mr. Right brand keampferia galanga powder with code AT154 on the packaging has tested positive for the aconite toxin. Other packages of the powder with code AT119 tested negative.
Out of an abundance of caution, the agency continues to recommend that individuals and businesses dispose of all packages regardless of the package code.
On the weekend, 12 people who ate a chicken dish at a Markham eatery ended up in hospital, with four of those requiring intensive care. Three were still in intensive care as of Wednesday, though public health said their conditions were improving. Another person who had been admitted to the ICU had left hospital.
"There is a strong indication the illness was caused by a spice product contaminated with aconite," said Dr. Barry Pakes, medical officer for York Region, in the statement.
"Laboratory confirmation of the food and other samples collected is underway, results are expected over the next several days."
Diners who were hospitalized as a result of the spice product contaminated with aconite are improving, and only one of the 12 remains in hospital, Pakes said.
The spice product believed to be responsible for the poisonings has been removed from retail locations in York Region, he added, and public health is working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Health to "limit exposure to this product," the statement said.
The distributor has recalled the product, York Public Health said.
The restaurant, Delight Restaurant & BBQ, fully co-operated with the investigation and has since been given a greenlight to reopen.