Kiwi cleaner thought to have caused allergic reactions

Kiwi cleaner thought to have caused allergic reactions

PAWTUCKET – Three of the 34 Rhode Island students suffering allergic reactions after eating kiwi fruit last week attended Nathanael Greene Elementary School, said Supt. Patti DiCenso, in what is believed to be an isolated incident.

The Rhode Island Department of Health is investigating the issue, but DiCenso said the likely cause she’s been given by those in authority is that someone washed the fruit “with some kind of cleaner” and then left the skin on the fruit. Though the unnamed cleaning solution is safe to use, she said, it does cause an allergic reaction in some people if it touches skin.

Local students mostly experienced a tingling tongue and swollen lips, said DiCenso.

The belief at first was that some students had a reaction to the fur on a kiwi, but with complaints coming from around the state, it quickly became evident that there was more to it, said the superintendent.

The kiwi fruit was being distributed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Fresh Fruit and Vegetable snack program, the same program reported on by The Breeze in 2016 when large amounts of broccoli and cauliflower were being left out at Agnes Little School and other schools after children declined to eat them.

An investigation of that situation found that students weren’t eating the vegetables because they were cut too large and didn’t come with dip. Most of the broccoli and cauliflower was being thrown out each week.

DiCenso said the aftermath of that 2016 situation led to a number of positive changes with the program, including making the healthy snack items more appealing for children to eat. Schools now have a window of time where fruits and vegetables can be left out, and items must be kept behind closed doors, she said.

In the case of the kiwis last week, school officials made sure to contact parents about the situation to tell them to be aware of any possible delayed reactions, said DiCenso.

The Rhode Island Department of Health is continuing its investigation of the “allergic-type reaction” students had after eating the kiwi. Symptoms, according to a news release, included itching of the lips and mouth, hives, and tongue swelling.

Fresh kiwi fruit was consumed immediately prior to onset of the reactions. Some of the students were treated in the school setting, and a few at the emergency department, with antihistamines and all improved. The cause of the reaction was unknown, according to RIDOH. Reports were confirmed from the following schools:

• Nathanael Greene, Pawtucket

• Blackstone Valley Prep 1, Cumberland

• Blackstone Valley Prep 2, Cumberland

• Blackstone Valley Prep 3, Cumberland

• Vartan Gregorian, Providence

• Southside Elementary Charter, Providence

• Globe Park School, Woonsocket

• Illuminar at ACH 1st, Providence

• Highlander, Providence

• Frank Spaziano Annex, Providence

• Times 2 Academy, Providence

• Anges Hennessey, East Providence

• Silver Springs, East Providence

• And Orlo Avenue, East Providence.

The fruit was cut and bagged at Roch’s Fresh Foods in West Greenwich. Roch’s has cooperated as RIDOH works with schools to ensure that all the fresh fruit from the distributor is discarded. In addition, the distribution of kiwis from Roch’s Fresh Foods was suspended. Because fruit had also been distributed to Massachusetts, RIDOH is coordinating with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

According to RIDOH, it was very unlikely that any delayed allergic reaction would occur from consuming the kiwis. All of the reported allergic reactions happened immediately after consuming the fruit.