LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigerian authorities have seized 2.5 metric tons of reportedly fake “plastic” rice during the holiday season.
The Nigerian Custom Service said it intercepted 102 bags of a brand called Best Tomato Rice after the recipient of a gift of rice alerted authorities. The health ministry released a statement on Friday urging Nigerians to remain calm after preliminary findings found no evidence that the rice was plastic or consisted of toxic chemical substances. Yet, the country’s National Agency for Food Drug Administration Control has not released their investigative report.
The health minister’s statement contradicts earlier reports from customs officials.
Mamudu Haruna, comptroller of the Federal Operations Unit, called it “plastic” rice at a press briefing in Lagos on Thursday. “We have done the preliminary analysis on the plastic rice. After boiling, it was sticky and only God knows what would have happened if people consumed it.”
Haruna described the importers of the fake rice as “economy saboteurs” seeking to capitalize off of Nigerians looking for bargains during the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
It is unclear where the shipment of rice originated. “A consultant said he was given 221 bags to distribute,” Jerry Attah, the public relations officer for the assistant superintendent of customs, told CNN.
One customer who avoided a potential mishap was Kikelomo Adediti. She said she bought 10 cups of the product (about 2 kg) from a small retailer in the Ikeja area of Lagos, in November.
“It looked perfectly normal and cost less [than regular rice] so I thought I got a great deal. Normally it would take about 20 minutes [to cook] but after 30 minutes it was still hard. I added more water and the aroma was chemical in nature so I decided to discard it thinking it had expired,” she told CNN. Adediti didn’t formally report the incident.
In another case, a woman who received rice as a gift noticed something was wrong after cooking it. Her husband then called customs officials.
Yet it’s still unclear what the rice is made of.
“If you look at it, it’s rice. If you look at the pictures, it’s rice. If you cook it and eat it, it’s rice. It’s only when you touch it you’ll feel it that you realize it’s not rice,” Attah told CNN.
“That’s why I call it fake rice, not plastic rice. To me it’s more like flour coated in maybe rubber… I don’t know the kind of formulations or chemicals they use,” he said.
Attah said that a total of 221 bags — each weighing 25 kilos — came into Nigeria, but only 102 were recovered, which means 119 have already been distributed.