Milk dumped as mud taints 14 Fonterra tankers
Fonterra is investigating a new contamination scare, involving tankers carrying raw milk.
A Symons Transport truck and trailer unit which had been carrying mud and gravel was accidentally put through Fonterra's cleaning system at the Whareroa plant in Taranaki.
Fourteen tankers were contaminated with the mud on Friday before the error was caught, including six which had gone on to pick up raw milk.
The Taranaki Daily News understands the mud was oil and gas drilling waste.
The latest issue comes as Fonterra tries to rebuild its image after the August baby formula botulism false alarm which set off a global panic.
Fonterra's general manager operations for lower North Island, Scott Walls, said the six tankers which had picked up milk were intercepted before they reached processing plants.
"We isolated the system and isolated those tankers."
The Clean In Place (CIP) system had to be cleaned out twice before it was deemed to be safe to use, Walls said.
The milk carried by the six contaminated tankers, worth roughly $150,000, was disposed of at a wastewater treatment plant in Taranaki.
Walls said the incident had not affected any other areas of Fonterra's operations apart from a few people having to work overtime for the clean-up.
An investigation into how the truck and trailer carrying mud ended up being put through the cleaning system was under way, he said.
"We have a bunch of checks that go into place for our contractors. Clearly there's something gone wrong.
"I've said to the investigation team: 'Don't speculate, gather the facts so we can understand what went wrong and what we could do differently'."
Walls said everyone involved in the incident had done what they were meant to do.
"We put these systems in place so it's a small-scale problem, not a million-dollar problem."
"It's more focussed at the moment around what went wrong and how do we safeguard that, moving forward."
A Fonterra worker, who declined to be named, said it appeared a part-time contract driver unwittingly took a tank contaminated with drilling mud residue to the Whareroa plant to be cleaned.
The worker said that tank was then put through the site's CIP system with several other tanks.
This is part of normal practice whereby tankers are washed when they come on site before heading out to collect milk.
As far as he knew the contract driver had no idea what was in the tank.
"He was just doing what he was told to do."
A report into the botulism scare released this week highlighted weaknesses in Fonterra's processes and governance.
The inquiry found there were 21 key decision points where choices had to be made within Fonterra which could have led to better outcomes to the botulism scandal.
The Fonterra board-commissioned independent inquiry made 33 recommendations to address the issues that led to the product recall and affected Fonterra's responses to the event.