Fonterra finds bug linked to botulism in infant formula ingredient

New Zealand dairy products giant Fonterra faces another food purity scare after advising eight customers it has found a strain of chlostridium, linked to the deadly disease botulism, in three batches whey protein concentrate used in products including infant formula.

The concentrate was produced at a single New Zealand manufacturing site in May 2012 and test results on July 31 this year prompted the notification to customers after Fonterra “identified a potential quality issue in March.”

“There have been no reports of any illness linked to consumption of the affected whey protein. Dairy products such as fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, spreads and UHT milk products are not affected,” said Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings in a statement.

The eight customers notified “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,” said Spierings.

“Fonterra 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.

“Product samples were put through intensive testing over the following months. On Wednesday 31 July 2013, tests indicated the potential presence of a strain of Clostridium (Clostridium Botulinum) in a sample, which can cause botulism.”

Fonterra scheduled a media briefing this morning to front-foot with the issue. The approach is in stark contrast to the approximately six months that lapsed between the discovery of tiny traces of a chemical known as DCD, linked to nitrogen inhibitors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, earlier this year.

The whey protein concentrate in question is WPC80.

“Food safety is Fonterra’s number one priority,” said Spierings. “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.

“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,” Mr Spierings said.

“We are working closely with New Zealand’s regulatory authority – the Ministry for Primary Industries – to keep New Zealand and offshore regulators informed.”

WPC80 is used in a range of products including infant formula, growing up milk powder and sports drinks.


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