The cause: too high a content of tropane alkaloids, a molecule naturally present in certain plants such as corn. A full batch of corn flour delivered to several Belgian wholesalers is precisely a problem, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (Afsca) told the Belga agency on Wednesday.
Tropane alkaloids are chemical substances present in many plants of several families such as Solanaceae (which includes ornamental plants but also eggplant, tomato or potato) and Erythroxylaceae. In this last family, we find in particular the coca bushes, shrubs of South America used for medicinal purposes but also to manufacture cocaine.
Certain tropane alkaloids such as scopolamine are also used in medicine to fight, in particular, against the symptoms of motion sickness. Others such as nicotine, belladonna (composed of atropine) or cocaine have psychotropic effects, acting on the nervous and cardiac system.
If their presence in the diet is completely undesirable, the Afsca is however reassuring and indicates that “it is only in the event of high-dose and long-term consumption of products with an excessively high content of alkaloids tropane that there may be a risk to health”. “In small quantities, no acute danger is to be feared,” she said.
Adverse effects that may be caused include drowsiness, headaches and nausea. People with cardiovascular disease may also be more sensitive to the presence of this substance.
The recall wave which has affected Belgium since the beginning of July is linked, according to the Federal Agency, to “the detection of too high a content of tropane alkaloids in a batch of maize flour coming from a foreign producer and which was delivered to several wholesalers and distributors in Belgium (Cora, Delhaize, Albert Heijn, Colruyt and Carrefour)”.
Each distributor then packaged the products according to its brand, which explains the proliferation of recalls, sometimes several weeks apart. “It therefore made sense for each distributor to carry out, in consultation with the Afsca, a product recall, so that consumers can clearly visualize the different packaging”, notes the Agency.