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After two deaths due to mold contamination, Kobayashi recalls its cholesterol-lowering supplement

In Japan, there has been a nationwide recall of health supplement products made by over a century-old Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. Two deaths and over 100 illnesses have been linked to these products, which were marketed as cholesterol-lowering aids. Investigations have revealed that the supplements contained an ingredient called "benikoji," a species of red rice yeast.

The recall extends beyond Kobayashi's products, encompassing over 40 items from various companies containing benikoji. These include staples such as miso paste, crackers, and vinegar dressing. The recall, initiated last week, follows mounting concerns regarding public health and safety, as confirmed by a government health ministry official on Wednesday.

Hospitalisation figures stand at 106 individuals, with numerous additional cases suspected but not conclusively linked to benikoji exposure. The precise extent of the outbreak remains uncertain, complicating efforts to manage and contain its spread. The Ministry of Health has published a comprehensive list of recalled products on its official website, cautioning consumers against items utilising benikoji as a food colouring agent.

According to Japanese media reports, Kobayashi has issued a public apology and urged consumers to discontinue using their products immediately. Despite efforts to address the crisis, inquiries to the company remain unanswered. Notably, company executives, including the president, expressed contrition during a press conference held upon the emergence of the issue, adhering to cultural norms of accountability in Japan.

Founded in Osaka, Japan, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. has established itself as a prominent player in the healthcare and consumer goods sectors. Embracing a distinctive market strategy dubbed "big fish in a small pond," the company prioritises capturing significant market shares within niche segments.

Financially, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. has demonstrated robust performance, with a net sales of over 162 billion Yen and a domestic operating income margin of 19.1%, as reported in their 2022 annual report. This favourable margin underscores the company's operational efficiency and strategic positioning within the market landscape.

The company's product portfolio spans a diverse range, including pharmaceuticals, oral care, food products, skincare, deodorising air fresheners, personal hygiene items, household consumables, and body warmers. With an expansive presence across eight distinct categories, Kobayashi boasts an extensive array of brands, totalling 157 in its basket.

As investigations continue, authorities warn of the potential for further victims in the coming days. A blanket advisory advises against the consumption of any products containing benikoji, particularly emphasising the heightened risks for individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as compromised kidney function.

All affected products originate from domestic sources, although the origin of raw materials remains under scrutiny. While previous recalls have targeted imported health supplements, this event marks the first major recall of domestically produced supplements, signalling a critical juncture in public health oversight.

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