Six people have died after eating pickles contaminated with E. coli bacteria in northern Japan, officials said on Sunday, in the country's deadliest mass food poisoning in 10 years.
A total of 103 others have been made ill after eating the same lightly pickled Chinese cabbage produced in late July by a company in the city of Sapporo, according to health bulletins issued by the local government.
Of the dead, five were elderly people who ate the pickles at nursing homes in Sapporo and in another city on Hokkaido island.
A four-year-old girl died on August 11, five days after developing symptoms of E. coli poisoning, an official at Sapporo's public health centre said.
"She and her family used to eat the company's cabbage pickles, which they often bought at a local supermarket. But it is not certain when she ate the contaminated product," Seiichi Miyahara told AFP by telephone.
Two women in their 90s died on Thursday in the city of Ebetsu, about 10 days after they were hospitalised with symptoms of food poisoning after eating the pickles at nursing homes.
"It is not easy to determine how the bacteria were mixed with the pickles," the official said. "We don't know yet whether there was any major problem in sanitary control at the company."
In 2002, nine people died from E. coli bacteria poisoning after eating a marinated chicken and vegetable dish at a hospital and its annex, a nursing home for the aged, in the provincial city of Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo.