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Pepsi scare changing some drink habits

Aluminum soft drink cans are about as tamper-proof as food containers get. Yet people in more than 20 states claim they've found needles in cans, making some consumers uneasy, others angry.

"When I put the straw in, I did this," said Brad Sauro, demonstrating they way he stirred his Pepsi to make sure the can contained just soda. "I suppose I was concerned enough to swish it around."

Sauro, a Rutherford, N.J., resident eating lunch in midtown Manhattan, was typical of Pepsi drinkers who said they couldn't buy the soda without thinking of the tampering reports that began June 9 in Tacoma, Wash.

A hypodermic needle that was found to be uncontaminated was reported in a Pepsi can there, but authorities haven't confirmed the can had been tampered with.

Many of the subsequent reports could be hoaxes. A man in Pennsylvania was charged Wednesday with making a false report that he found a syringe in a Diet Pepsi can.

Pepsi has established a toll-free hot line for customers with questions about the reports. The number is (800) 433-2652.

Consumers interviewed Wednesday said they hadn't stopped buying Pepsi products. Maria Torres, a manager at a Manhattan branch of Food Emporium supermarkets, said no customers have asked about the tampering reports.

"I bought it in defiance," Joe Scorese said as he ate lunch in a Manhattan park. "I didn't want my choice to be based on the media reports."

Still, until the case is closed, a parent may worry about giving in to a child nagging for a can of soda.

What can you do? The answer is simple: The federal Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers to pour the soda into a glass before drinking it. Or buy bottles and look inside before drinking.

"There's no such thing as a tamper-proof package, so people have to take reasonable precautions," FDA spokeswoman Betsy Adams said Wednesday.

"I can't give you a 100 percent guarantee, but I would assure you it is 99.99 percent assured that nothing is happening in the facilities themselves, in the plants. It's literally physically impossible," Pepsi-Cola Co.'s North American division president and chief executive, Craig Weatherup, said Wednesday on NBC's Today show.

Meanwhile, a Jacksonville couple found a sealed Diet Pepsi can containing a metal screw, but FDA officials discounted any link to the reports of contaminated cans.

"It just sounds like a quality control problem," said Randy Bringger, of the FDA office in Jacksonville.

Maine warns of pins in bakery goods: Maine issued a warning to consumers across the Northeast on Wednesday after receiving reports of pins and needles being found in one bakery's products.

Lepage Bakeries said 14 people have reported finding common pins, sewing needles and a safety pin in 10 of its products over the last three years.

The state only learned of the apparent tampering in May, when the three latest incidents were reported, said Clayton Davis, director of regulations for the Maine Agriculture Department.