Dubai Municipality issues a warning after a call from a concerned resident of "marketing" images of chocolate-filled syringes.
Chocolate needles alarm bells
The civic body issued its warning after receiving a call on the municipal complaints hotline.
The concerned resident reported an image of syringes with hypodermic needles, filled with chocolate paste and carrying the label of a popular chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella. They were being marketed on social-networking websites and through instant messaging on smartphones.
The regional distributor for Nutella, Arabian Oasis, said it had no knowledge of the syringes before yesterday.
Several similar images could be found on blog sites dating as far back as a year.
"We are certain that this product has never been on the shelves in Dubai," said Shaima Al Tenaiji, principal food studies and surveys officer at the food control department of Dubai Municipality. "As far as we know, it is being delivered from person to person."
The municipality had issued a warning because it did not yet know for sure how the syringes were being produced and handled, or who was doing it.
"This is a major health risk; should any of those needles accidentally prick the person packaging them it could lead to the spread of infectious diseases as serious as HIV," she said.
Sherin El Sabaie, the general manager of Arabian Oasis, said: "I only found out about this today through an email.
"I forwarded the information to the main company headquarters in Italy and I'm awaiting their response. We are only the distributor and have the only officially packaged product of Nutella."
Mr El Sabaie said he was shocked to learn such a dangerous product might be on sale.
"At the moment we are looking into what legal action to take against whoever [might be] producing and distributing these needles. This could negatively affect our product image and Nutella is one of our top-selling products.
"Let's see what this product is first; we don't even know what is in these needles. It might not be Nutella."
In a statement released by the municipality yesterday, Khalid Sherif, the director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality, said the civic body was working with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment to take necessary action.
"The needles are not clean or sanitised and might be used in hospitals to take blood or inject medicine," Mr Sherif said.
"We strongly advise the public to purchase food products from authorised establishments only as they get approval for all food items."
A self-described Nutella addict, Megha Ashish, 25, says she always has a jar of the product in her refrigerator.
"It's a bit of a cliche, but when I'm feeling low I eat Nutella to make me feel happy," said the Dubai resident from India. "It's got me through a lot of tough times."
Despite her devotion to the product, Ms Ashish said that if Nutella needles existed she would never buy them.
"I would never want to buy such a product. It sounds mortifying," she said.
"I don't see the point. I mean what do you do with it? Do you eat it or inject it?"