Extortionist seeking millions by poisoning supermarket food

BERLIN (Reuters) - A man slipped a potentially lethal poison into food, including baby food, on sale in some German supermarkets in an extortion scheme aimed at raising millions of euros, police said on Thursday. No cases of poisoning had been reported so far.

Police said the alleged perpetrator had alerted them by e-mail after placing quantities of poison in products for sale in some southern German supermarkets earlier in September, and was now threatening to do so nationwide and elsewhere in Europe unless given a pay-off of many millions.

"We are taking the threat very seriously," Uwe Stuermer, deputy chief of police in the southern lakeside city of Konstanz, told a news conference.

"There is no reason for panic or hysteria," he added, while warning consumers to be on the look-out for packaging that had been tampered with when buying their groceries.

Police were looking for a suspect who could be seen in security video footage from one of the supermarkets in a town near Konstanz and appeared to be a man of around 50. The footage was made public to help in the search.

RELATED: 10 Common Foods That Can Be Poisonous

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10 Common Foods That Can Be Poisonous
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10 Common Foods That Can Be Poisonous

Check out this slideshow to learn what common edible contains cyanide and which bean could kill you instantly.

Elderberry

While it is a beautiful plant, don't be fooled! This plant, often used in medicinal syrups, sodas and liquors can cause a severely upset stomach if consumed incorrectly.

What to look for:

The flowers are the part of the plant used to make all things elderberry. The stems and various other parts of the plant, when consumed, can cause severe stomach issues. Steer clear!

Mushrooms

Ever heard of toadstools? They are part of the mushroom family, but some toadstools are known for being incredibly poisonous.

What to Look for:

Always stick to mushrooms you can buy at a supermarket.

They should have a flat cap with no bumps, and the gills within the mushroom should either be grey or have a pink hue.

Puffer Fish

If you've ever been fishing or crabbing in the inter-coastal waterways or in the ocean, you may have seen or caught a puffer fish (also known as a blowfish). The eyes and internal organs of puffer fish are highly toxic.

Fun fact: Fugu (the liver) is officially illegal for the Emperor of Japan to eat.

What to look for:

Not much. We recommend steering clear of puffer fish unless they are prepared by a professional chef trained in fugu (yes, such a thing exists). Training to acquire a license in fugu preparation takes two to three years, and only 30% of trainees pass the test.

Castor Oil

Castor oil comes from the castor bean plant. One single castor bean can drop a human to his or her knees. Four can potentially kill a horse. Castor beans are loaded with ricin, a poison. Many field workers who gather the beans today tend to experience negative side effects.

What to look for:

Carefully handled and prepared castor oil. Castor beans undergo strict safety guidelines which must be met in order to place this product on shelves.

Almonds

This commonly devoured seed, often mistaken for a nut, packs a little more punch than we knew. Bitter almonds, when served raw, are full of cyanide. In order to remove the toxins, they must go through a specialized heat treatment. For some countries, such as New Zealand, the risk is far too great, and the delectable treat is off shelves and illegal.

What to look for:

Bitter almonds that have been processed and heated.

Cherries

Often enjoyed raw, in pies or in other popular treats, cherries are another hazardous item on our list. Be wary and cautious of their seeds, which contain hydrogen cyanide.

What to look for:

Cherry seeds that are crushed, chewed or even slightly injured can be a potential threat. Please consume wisely and remember, don't chew on the seeds.

Apples

An apple a day will keep the doctor away. That is, unless you eat too many of the popular fruit's seeds. These seeds also carry cyanide, but it's speculated that the seeds within one apple are not enough to become dangerous.

What to look for:

Be aware of your apple consumption, and be sure to pluck the seeds as you go. Apples are a delicious and healthy snack when prepared properly.

Rhubarb

When we think rhubarb, pies and pudding come to mind. Underrated and easy to grow at home, this plant can be great. However, its leaves contain a double-threat: corrosive acid and an unknown, unidentified poison.

What to look for:

Step away from the leaves and look to the stalk. Make sure they are washed very carefully, and never use frost-bitten stalks.

Tomatoes

Known for their many beneficiary properties, such as Lycopene, tomatoes also contain the poison Glycoalkaloid in their leaves. Glycoalkaloid is known to upset your stomach and cause severe cramping and nervousness.

What to look for:

Avoid the leaves and stems of the tomato plant. They may be used to enhance flavor when preparing dishes, but must be removed before consuming.

Fun fact: Tomatoes, considered a fruit in much of the world, were declared a vegetable by the United States in 1893 for tax purposes.

Potatoes

Potatoes are another vegetable with poisonous stems and leaves. Potato poisoning rarely occurs, but most fatalities have been attributed to eating green potatoes (full of Glycoalkaloid) or drinking potato leaf tea.

What to look for:

Simply put, enjoy the wonderful and tasty crop for what it is (and not for its stem or leaves). Go crazy with baked potatoes, french fries or mashed potatoes, just leave anything green out of it!

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Police said they had found some baby food spiked with ethylene glycol, a colorless, odorless liquid used in the manufacture of antifreeze, which can be deadly if consumed.

Authorities in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said they would intensify checks of food on sale, but warned that identifying contaminated items would be a challenge.

"The case is difficult because the blackmailer did not say which food will be targeted or what poison he will use," a consumer protection official said.

 

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; editing by Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich)

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