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LI shoppers find Jell-O tampering tasteless

Aisle 14 at the Stop & Shop on

Aisle 14 at the Stop & Shop on Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury, where police are investigating a tampering of the product, has been emptied of most Jell-O cartons. (March 27, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Matthew Chayes

What would Bill Cosby say?

As police search for a serial Jell-O tamperer who has targeted Stop & Shops across Long Island, shoppers Saturday said they were befuddled and outraged that someone would sully the beloved American staple.

"Only a sick person would do something like that!" said longtime Jell-O connoisseur Virginia Foster of Bayside, Queens.

She was at the Woodbury Stop & Shop on Jericho Turnpike - one of at least four locations, including Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington, where police say Jell-O pudding mixes have been tampered with.

Police say the powders were replaced with a substance, apparently not harmful, that resembled aquarium sand. A Suffolk police official said buyers could tell the packages had been tampered with.

Lab tests are pending. No one has been arrested.

Aisle 14 at the Woodbury store was emptied of most Jell-O pudding mix cartons Saturday. No instant butterscotch flavor. No chocolate. Shelf signs lament that the Kraft Foods product is "temporarily unavailable."

Foster, 70, feeds her 25 grandkids Jell-O, keeps her home stocked with Jell-O and is preparing to make Jell-O for Easter.

Of the tamperer, she said, "They want their 15 minutes of fame."

Foster vowed to keep buying Jell-O, especially banana and cherry, among her favorites. "It's easy to make. My grandkids love it. The stuff is just good and I love it," she said.

"I'm making some today if you want to come over and have some," she told a reporter.

Mara Schwartz, 56, of Syosset, used to buy Jell-O when her children were younger. Now she can't fathom why anyone would bother to buy the mix, substitute a powder and then return the package to the store for a refund, as police suspect.

"How do people stay up at night and think of these things?" she said. "Get a life!"

Jell-O's roots date to 1845, when inventor Peter Cooper obtained a patent for a gelatin dessert. Comedian Bill Cosby was the Jell-O pudding spokesman for more than 30 years.

Cosby could not be reached for comment Saturday. A Kraft spokeswoman said the product does not appear to have been tampered with in the manufacturing plant.

None of the dozen people interviewed Saturday said they'd stop buying Jell-O, but many said the scare reminded them to scrutinize everything they buy.

"I'll just look at the packaging more carefully . . . like I would check Halloween candy for my children," said Lia Chasen of East Norwich, a retired high school Spanish teacher.

Chasen, a fan of the dulce de leche flavor, took a fatalist approach to the tampering.

"What can I tell you? We live in difficult times," she said. "You can't stop living. You've got to keep on going, and when it's your turn, you're finished."

With Patrick Whittle

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