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Uncle Ben's Rice Tied to School Lunch Illnesses

Federal health officials are warning schools, hospitals and consumers not to use 5- and 25-pound bags of Uncle Ben’s flavored rice mixes after reports that 60 schoolchildren in three states have suffered allergic-style reactions since October.

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating a report that 34 students and four teachers at three schools in Katy, Texas, became ill last week after eating Mexican-style Uncle Ben’s infused rice products. They suffered burning, itching, rashes, headaches and nausea for 30 to 90 minutes.

That followed a report in December that 25 schoolchildren in Illinois suffered skin reactions after a school lunch that included flavored rice. Three children and a college student in North Dakota experienced “flushing” after eating the rice in October.

In the Illinois case, FDA officials tested leftover rice and detected increased levels of niacin, or Vitamin B3, in the rice.

"Overexposure to niacin can lead to skin reactions such as redness and flushing, itching and dry skin," said FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman in an email. "Very large doses can cause indigestion and nausea."

There is no confirmation that the Texas cases were caused by excessive niacin, she said, adding that an investigation is continuing.

On Monday, Mars Foodservices, the company that makes Uncle Ben’s products, recalled all bags and lot numbers of its infused rice produced in 2013. The lot number associated with the Texas illnesses is 351EKGRV01.

The recall does not affect Uncle Ben’s products sold in grocery stores, such as ready to heat, boxed, bag or cup products.

The rice is typically sold to food service companies that distribute to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other large, commercial food service providers. However, the products may also be available over the Internet and at warehouse stores such as Sam's Club, the FDA said.

Food service firms and consumers should not use the rice and should return it or dispose of it, the FDA said.