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80 Fall to Food Poisoning at Weekend

Worries about food safety are increasing as, with the New Year just around the corner and the long Spring Festival holiday just 50 days ahead, the country has been hit by a series of food poisonings.

Saturday witnessed two cases involving more than 60 people altogether.

In south China's Hainan Province, 19 workers in the capital city of Haikou fell ill with nausea, vomiting and dizziness about an hour after having dinner at the company cafeteria at 6:00 PM.

All the victims -- two women and seventeen men who work as dockers for a port company at Haidian wharf -- were sent to a local hospital.

One colleague who did not share the meal with the others said the poisoning might have been related to the Chinese cabbage they ate that evening. No indication of the reason for the connection was provided.

The 19 victims remain in the hospital and cause of the incident is under investigation.

Earlier on Saturday in a village near Hohhot, the capital city of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, more than 40 people were poisoned during a family celebration.

Local health officials told Xinhua News Agency that those who were sick ranged in age from about six to more than seventy.

Ren Humao and family were holding a traditional 100th-day celebration following the birth of their son by inviting friends and relatives to breakfast in a local restaurant on Saturday.

Guests began complaining of nausea, dizziness and exhaustion shortly after reaching their homes.

Preliminary investigation indicated that the soup served at breakfast contained a far greater amount of nitrite than is allowed.

Sodium nitrite is a preservative commonly used in meats to maintain color and prevent botulism. At high levels, nitrite is toxic if consumed because it binds with the hemoglobin in red blood cells and prevents the transfer of oxygen within the body.

Early Sunday morning, another poisoning occurred in Tianjin Municipality, about 120 kilometers south of Beijing.

At 3:00 AM on December 19, 20 employees of an electronics company fell ill after eating rice, mushrooms and pumpkin when they got off the night shift.

All 20 were given medical care and no lives were lost.

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn December 20, 2004)

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