Fonterra has today confirmed 9000 bottles of Anchor and Pams fresh cream have been contaminated with E.Coli.
The company released a statement last night saying it was conducting a voluntary recall of 300 millilitre 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.
This morning Fonterra Brands New Zealand managing director Peter McClure told Radio NZ the cream had tested positive for E.Coli.
The company was yet to determine how the contamination happened, McClure said, adding it was "very unlikely" to have come in with the milk from the farms.
McClure told Radio NZ it was "almost impossible" that the contamination could have been deliberate .
However, he said he did not want to speculate further on how the contamination happened.
McClure said E.Coli contaminations were "very rare" and this was the first time in at least 18 years that a Fonterra product had tested positive for the bacteria.
The E.Coli contamination follows a major botulism scare for Fonterra last year which led to thousands of infant formula products being recalled.
The scare, which eventually proved to be baseless, damaged confidence in New Zealand dairy products, and last week French food giant Danone said it had withdrawn its supply contract with Fonterra and had was seeking compensation through the New Zealand High Court.
McClure told radio NZ: "We wouldn't want this at any time and certainly now is not a good time for us either, but we're doing everything we can.
"I think our consumers have stuck with us and they will continue to do so because they know the standards we maintain."
The 8700 bottles of cream had been distributed to shops and restaurants.
E.Coli, which is found in human and animal faeces, can cause infections and symptoms similar to food poisoning.
McClure said the company was sorry for the latest inconvenience but "food safety and quality are our top priorities".
Labour's primary industries spokesperson Damien O'Connor said the credibility of New Zealand's food safety system had again been brought into doubt.
"Fonterra appears to have used the appropriate testing systems which picked up the dangerous bacteria E.Coli and have taken precautionary action, as is appropriate," he said.
"However the timing of food testing and the accuracy of information provided to companies such as Fonterra needs further scrutiny.
"The Government has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars through its Primary Growth Partnership fund, yet areas of food safety and science continue to be under-resourced and not up to international best practice."
O'Connor said an independent Food Safety Authority - which currently sits within the Ministry for Primary Industries - was the only way to ensure proper scrutiny of food production.
Fonterra Shareholders' Council chairman Ian Brown said the contamination was a "reality of life" and it appeared Fonterra was being "very proactive" by announcing the possible contamination last night.
"I think farmers will absolutely applaud that," he said.
Foodstuffs group communications manager Jo Jalfon said the company, which owns New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square, had received four calls from customers asking questions about the contamination and recall but there had not been any reports of illness.
Jalfon said the product would have "largely sold through" by now and had probably been consumed by customers.
Customers had not returned any of the affected products to the company early this morning.
The recall does not affect any other Anchor or Pams products.
Consumers are advised not to consume the product and to return it to where they bought it for a refund.
- Taranaki Daily News
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