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Health supplement products believed to have caused two deaths and sickened more than 100 people have been ordered to be taken off store shelves in Japan, marking the first major recall of a domestically produced supplement in the country. 

The products from Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., billed as helping to lower cholesterol, contained an ingredient called “benikoji,” a red species of mold.

In addition to the products from Osaka-based Kobayashi, more than 40 products from other companies containing benikoji, including miso paste, crackers and a vinegar dressing, were recalled, starting last week, a government health ministry official said Wednesday.

At least 106 people had been hospitalized, and many more are believed to have been sickened, although it’s unclear if all the illnesses are directly linked to benikoji (pronounced beh-nee-koh-jeeh).

A factory of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., is seen in Osaka, Japan on March 26, 2024.

Keiji Uesho / AP

The ministry has put up a list on its official site of all the recalled products, including some that use benikoji for food coloring.

The company is investigating the cause of the problem. The recalled products could be bought without a prescription from a doctor, and could be purchased at drug stores.

Kobayashi apologized and asked in an online statement: “Please stop taking our products, and please do not use them in the future.”

Repeated calls to Kobayashi went unanswered. The company president and other top officials held a news conference last week when the problem first surfaced, bowing their heads in apology, as is the standard in Japan.

Akihiro Kobayashi, President of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., left, bows during a press conference in Osaka, on March 22, 2024. 

Chiaki Ueda / AP

The ministry official warned there could be more victims in the days ahead. He asked everyone to stop ingesting anything with benikoji in it. Those with health problems, like weak kidneys, could be especially vulnerable, he said.

All the products were made in Japan, although it is unclear if any of the raw materials were imported. A recall of imported health supplements has happened before, but this is the first major recall of a domestically produced supplement, according to Japanese media reports.

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