Fonterra still tracing source of E coli

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 13:53 15/01/2014

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Fonterra should know within a week the type of E coli strain that was found in a batch of cream that resulted in the voluntary recall of 8700 bottles.

The dairy co-operative is also no closer to tracing the source of the contamination. A Fonterra spokesman said it was unable to confirm how long this process could take.

Fonterra announced a voluntary recall earlier this week of 8700 300ml and 500ml bottles of Anchor and Pams fresh cream with a best before date of January 21, 2014, distributed in the North Island from Northland to Turangi, including Gisborne.

The cream was distributed to retail and foodservice outlets.

The spokesman said Fonterra had received 100 calls from consumers over the past two days directly related to the recall. The majority of these calls were from people making general enquiries confirming product they purchased and batch numbers.

There were also a handful of calls from consumers that suffered from mild upset stomachs who questioned whether the cream could be the cause.

University of Auckland microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles suspected it was "most likely" a benign strain of E coli found.

This was because Fonterra was carrying out a voluntary recall and the announcement "wasn't strongly worded".

Wiles said were many different types of E coli which vary in the disease they cause and the doses needed for an infection.

"They range from relatively benign strains which require ingestion of large quantities to cause not much more than a short-lived upset tummy, to strains which produce nasty toxins and a small dose of which can cause kidney failure and death."

A spokeswoman for Progressive Enterprises said it had removed 300ml and 500ml bottles of Anchor cream from the shelves of Countdown, SuperValue and FreshChoice stores in the North Island. Progressive does not sell Pams products.

"Fonterra have communicated the recall widely, so we're confident that customers will be aware if they have affected products. We haven't received any complaints of illness in relation to the recall."

A spokeswoman for Foodstuffs said it had immediately withdrawn Pams and Anchor fresh cream bottles from supermarket shelves.

"We have had a steady flow of customer queries come in on our 0800 number, but no complaints of illness."

Many of the questions were from customers wanting to know if the cream they bought was safe to eat.

"It absolutely is so long as it doesn't have a best before date of January 21."

She said there had been "single digit numbers" of people returning the product to the store.

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Neither Progressives nor Foodstuffs use the affected cream products in their bakeries.

New Zealand Food & Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said it was important that Fonterra's recall of a batch of cream was not blown out of proportion.

Food recalls were a fact of life every day all around the world.

"Even though New Zealand has one of the best food production systems in the world, our food companies sometimes have to call product back and they are ready for this.

"It's something every company knows it will probably face from time to time, and it's precisely because of our modern and world-leading food production systems that we are able to pick up these issues and act swiftly."

ANZ rural economist Con Williams said it was hard to quantify the impact this latest recall could have on Fonterra's reputation.

He did question the effect the recall could have on the company's ability to implement its value-added strategy.

The recall should not affect farmer payout or milk prices. Larger issues such as the price differential between milk powder and cheese were more likely to affect what Fonterra paid its farmers, Williams said.

- Fairfax Media

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