NEW YORK Colgate-Palmolive Co. said on Friday counterfeit toothpaste that may contain a toxic chemical posed a low health risk, and it was picking up suspected fakes labeled "Colgate" brand from discount stores in four U.S. states.
"It's a low health risk but the bottom line is, it doesn't belong in toothpaste," said Doug Arbesfeld, a spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
After analyzing some counterfeit samples, Colgate said it agreed with Arbesfeld's statement.
Two residents of the New York City borough of Staten Island who said they had used the counterfeit toothpaste were hospitalized, the Staten Island Advance newspaper reported.
The FDA traced the counterfeit toothpaste to New Jersey distributor MS USA Trading Inc., Arbesfeld said.
On Thursday, Colgate reported finding phony "Colgate" toothpaste in discount stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The company said the discount stores with the counterfeit toothpaste were independently owned.
The counterfeit toothpaste may contain the toxic chemical diethylene glycol, or DEG, and is labeled as being manufactured in South Africa. It comes in a 5-ounce (100 ml) tube, a size Colgate does not make or sell in the United States, the company said.
The chemical is sometimes illegally used as an inexpensive sweetener and thickening agent. It is also found in solvents and antifreeze.
DEG-contaminated toothpaste has been seized in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Nicaragua. The sweet substance, sometimes used as a substitute for glycerin, was found in cough syrup in Panama that led to the deaths of at least 100 people last year.
According to the newspaper article, Doris Harrell said she developed nausea, stomach pain, dizziness and irregular bowel movements after using the toothpaste last week.
Her cousin Ricky Simmons was cited in the article as saying he had stomach pains after using the toothpaste two weeks ago, the article said.
Harrell said she bought the toothpaste at Neighborhood Discount Inc. on Staten Island last month, according to the newspaper.
The store's manager, Ashraf Elbaz, told Reuters he pulled tubes of toothpaste off shelves early Friday morning as soon as he heard about the incident.
Colgate said it had contacted all of its accounts and that none reported having any of the fake toothpaste. The company said it would take it off shelves if it heard of any stores with it in stock.
Colgate said it was trying to reach the people on Staten Island who reported becoming ill to be helpful and to obtain information about the counterfeit product.
MS USA is recalling all lots of 5-ounce Colgate toothpaste tubes it distributed to discount retail stores in the four states, according to a statement. MS USA could not be reached for additional comment.
Consumers can identify the counterfeit product by the size as well as the label tracing it to South Africa, Colgate said. In addition, there are misspellings on the package including "SOUTH AFRLCA" and "isclinically", Colgate said.
Two weeks ago the FDA warned consumers to avoid any toothpaste made in China after its inspectors found DEG in tubes sold at two stores. It also issued an import alert to prevent all toothpaste from three Chinese companies that make brands found to contain DEG from entering the United States.
It was unclear where the fake Colgate toothpaste originated.
Colgate said on Thursday it was working with the FDA to identify those responsible for the counterfeit products. The company said it does not use DEG in its toothpaste.
Colgate shares closed down 22 cents at $66.63 on the New York Stock Exchange.
More information about the toothpaste products in question can be found on the FDA's web site here
(Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski)