Some Fonterra products used in infant formula and sports drinks may contain a bacteria that causes botulism, the company announced early today, TV New Zealand reported.
Fonterra said that on Wednesday tests indicated the potential presence of a strain of Clostridium (Clostridium Botulinum) in a whey concentrate sample, which can cause botulism.
The company said it today advised eight of its customers of a “quality issue” involving three batches of a particular type of whey protein concentrate (WPC80) produced at a single New Zealand manufacturing site in May 2012.
As a result, these customers are urgently investigating whether any of the affected product, which contains a strain of Clostridium, is in their supply chains. If need be, they will initiate consumer product recalls.
There have been no reports of any illness linked to consumption of the affected whey protein, Fonterra said in a statement. Dairy products such as fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, spreads and UHT milk products are not affected, it said.
Fonterra had initially identified a potential quality issue in March this year, when a product tested positive for Clostridium. There are hundreds of different strains of Clostridium, the majority of which are harmless, the company said.
Product samples were put through intensive testing over the following months. On Wednesday, tests indicated the potential presence of a strain of Clostridium (Clostridium Botulinum) in a sample, which can cause botulism.
The particular whey protein concentrate concerned is used by Fonterra’s customers in a range of products including infant formula, growing up milk powder and sports drinks, said Gary Romano, Managing Director NZ Milk Products.
“For this reason, we immediately contacted our customers and the appropriate authorities, so that any potentially affected product could be removed from the marketplace.
“We are working with our customers and will provide more information and updates as they become available,” Mr Romano said.
Romano told a news conference today that investigations had isolated the cause of the contamination. A piece of pipe was not sterilised properly and was used during production of three batches of whey protein concentrate.
The piece of equipment was subsequently cleaned and further product tested was clear.
The organism is present in soils and small amounts of dust accumulated in the pipe and triggered the contamination, he said.
Any consumer product recalls that may need to take place will be initiated by the respective food companies.
Fonterra Chief Executive Theo Spierings said food safety is Fonterra’s “number one priority.”
“We take matters of public health extremely seriously and we are doing everything we can to assist our customers in ensuring any product containing this ingredient is removed from the marketplace and that the public is made aware,” Spierings said.
“We are acting quickly. Our focus is to get information out about potentially affected product as fast as possible so that it can be taken off supermarket shelves and, where it has already been purchased, can be returned,” he said.
Fonterra is working closely with New Zealand’s regulatory authority – the Ministry for Primary Industries – to keep New Zealand and offshore regulators informed, he said.
Fonterra said today that Mr Spierings will be talking to Chinese companies about the contamination issue while he is in China this weekend.