Bottled water leaves nasty taste

ALANA DIXON
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2011

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A Winton man wants to know why Coca-Cola kept a dodgy batch of bottled water on the shelves for a month, when it was making people sick, he says.

Ben Fitzgibbon was diagnosed with pneumonia soon after drinking the water, but the cause remained a mystery until this week. He complained to Coca-Cola on January 10 after buying a lime-flavoured Pump in Winton.

"It tasted like poison."

The smell and taste made him vomit, and his lips burned after drinking it, he said.

Coca-Cola rang him this week to tell him the water had been infected with mould, he said.

"I've never had asthma or anything," he said. "I never get sick."

He was on antibiotics and an inhaler, and was being referred to Southland Hospital to see a respiratory specialist, he said.

Coca-Cola Amatil corporate affairs manager Suzy Clarkson said food-grade mould was caused when the sterilisation of flavoured water did not meet the required levels. Coca-Cola was working with the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to address the problem.

The reason for the delay was because a process had to be followed to find out the problem's cause, Ms Clarkson said. Consumers had to send the product to Auckland, where samples were tested in a laboratory and analysed.

That took time, she said.

"I can give you assurance that when we were alerted of the incidents ... we acted extremely quickly," she said. "We have no interest in having anything less than top-quality beverages out in the marketplace."

All flavoured water, with expiry dates up to June 1, was recalled on Monday.

But Mr Fitzgibbon was unimpressed with the explanation.

"It's not really good enough. If that's what has caused my illness I'll be pretty disappointed."

His doctor and the specialist both indicated the mould was probably the cause, he said.

Coca-Cola offered him a $100 voucher but he declined.

Nationwide, 70 people complained about the product, and 13 had become temporarily unwell.

Most had stomach complaints but the company was aware of one consumer with respiratory problems, Mrs Clarkson said.

However, she did not believe Mr Fitzgibbon's pneumonia was related to the Pump water, as he had swallowed not inhaled it, she said.

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