Contaminated Fonterra powder in supply chain for more than a year
Fonterra has confirmed the whey powder at the centre of a botulism alert was shipped to customers at the time of its production, meaning it has been in the manufacturing supply chain for more than a year.
In an emailed response to questions from BusinessDesk, the managing director for Fonterra subsidiary NZ Milk Products, Gary Romanov said "at this time (May 2012), the product passed all quality tests and was subsequently shipped to customers."
He disclosed also that the "surprise" discovery of the "very rare" form of a commonly occurring bacteria, Clostridium Botulinum, had occurred as a result of Fonterra seeking to use some of the 38 tonne batch in manufacturing product for a third party customer.
"The test that indicated the presence of Clostridrium was of a third party manufacture product," he said. Fonterra first got test results indicating a problem in March and, after extensive testing, found the bacteria linked to the deadly illness, botulism, on July 31.
It notified customers immediately and made the issue public today. Chief executive Theo Spierings is on his way to China from Europe for talks with affected customers, whom Fonterra has declined to name because each must make its own decisions on how to notify end users.
The whey protein powder is used in infant formula and sports drinks, and none of Fonterra's own brands are affected.
The New Zealand Infant Formula Manufacturers Association immediately issued a statement saying "none of our members are affected."
None of our members use Fonterra WPC 80 in the production of their infant formula," said the association's chief administrative officer, Chris Claridge.
"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 Spierings in the initial statement earlier today on the issue, which is the latest in a string of food safety scares for the dairy cooperative, New Zealand's largest business.