Minister of Health Vili Beros has urged Croatians not to panic after at least seven people were hospitalised with suspected poisoning.
People reportedly developed symptoms after drinking Coca-Cola products in several areas of the country. The company confirmed on November 8 it was aware of a case of poisoning linked to its mineral water in a Rijeka café and it was cooperating with local authorities.
Beros confirmed on November 8 that a further four people have been admitted to a Zagreb hospital with gastrointestinal problems, plus one in Vinograd Hospital and one in Varazdin, a government statement said. At least three cases were previously reported.
He said the symptoms were not serious, and it still has to be determined whether the illnesses are related to the consumption of various drinks.
"We are talking about minor injuries for which it is necessary to determine at this moment whether they are all related to the consumption of different drinks," he noted, adding that some of those affected ate “salty sticks”.
“Some [of the patients] also consumed some kind of salty sticks. So, we have to connect everything together, put it in the relevant context, and not spread panic any further. The moment a certain connection is established, the public will be informed,” Beros said.
While the causes of the illnesses are determined, Beros advised Croatians to drink only tap water. He urged the population not to panic, and warned of fake news circulated on social media.
Coca-Cola confirmed it was aware of “an isolated case involving a 330 ml glass bottle of Romerquelle Emotion Blueberry Pomegranate drink” and added it was fully open to cooperation with competent authorities.
Meanwhile, the country’s public health authority launched an investigation into the case. The State Inspectorate said it took samples of Coca-Cola products distributed in the city of Rijeka where the first case was reported and sent them for analysis at the public health institute.
In order to avoid further cases, the inspectorate ordered Coca-Cola to withdraw its products until the investigation is over. The company has agreed to do that.
"We are temporarily recalling one batch of Coca-Cola Original Taste 500ml in plastic packaging (PET) from the market in accordance with an oral decision of the State Inspectorate of the Republic of Croatia, a series of Products Coca-Coca Original Taste, carbonated soft drink, 500 ml PET produced on October 11, 2023 with an expiration date until April 11, 2024,” Coca-Cola Croatia said in an emailed statement to bne IntelliNews.
“While our internal analysis showed no irregularities in production or in the products, we also made the decision to temporarily recall two limited series Romerquelle Emotion Blueberry Pomegranate 330ml in glass packaging pending completion of the official investigation. These are series produced on 27 May 2023 (with expiration date until February 2024) and 22 June 2023 (with expiration date until March 2024),” it added.
The news about the suspected poisonings after consuming Coca-Cola drinks sparked a frenzy of speculation on social media. Prior to the official announcements, posters had been warning each other not to drink these products and witnesses described the symptoms of the hospitalised patients.
It also sparked concerns across the region. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Food Safety Agency investigated whether the Pomegranate drink is being offered to customers but so far has not banned the distribution of Coca-Cola’s products, Nezavisne Novine reported.
In Montenegro, Coca-Cola’s local unit said it imports products from Serbia and Pomegranate is not among them, public broadcaster RTCG reported. That information was confirmed by the local food safety authority.