Fonterra has today confirmed 9000 bottles of Anchor and Pams fresh cream have been contaminated with E coli.
The dairy giant last night announced 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.
Fonterra said the cream had tested positive for E coli.
A Fonterra spokesman said the contamination had been traced to Fonterra's processing facility at Takanini in South Auckland. The facility is the largest processing site in the country for Fonterra Brands New Zealand, employing 600 people and is also home to the company's head office. This was a different plant to where the botulism contamination scare occurred last year.
However, Fonterra was yet to determine how the contamination happened.
Fonterra Brands managing director Peter McClure told Radio NZ it was "very unlikely" to have come in with the milk from the farms and it was "almost impossible" that the contamination could have been deliberate.
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.
Fonterra said it would not know how many bottles of cream had been returned until next week.
So far, the company had received a few calls from customers asking what to do if they felt ill after consuming the cream but more calls were expected now the story was in the media, Fonterra said.
According to the Fonterra website, the Takanini factory also produces milk, UHT and cultured dairy food.
The factory's core product is fresh milk and the site's seven filling lines package more than 298,000 litres of fresh milk each day and can produce about 6.4 bottles a second.
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to be baseless, damaged confidence in New Zealand dairy products, and last week French food giant Danone said it had withdrawn its supply contract with Fonterra and had was seeking compensation through the New Zealand High Court after identifying €300 million (NZ$490m) in anticipated business losses for the 2013 financial year.
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.
Foodstuffs group communications manager Jo Jalfon said the company, which owns New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square, had received a few 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.
An unrelated E coli contamination has led Deep South Ice Cream to issue a voluntary product recall on Friday.
Deep South co-owner and director Mike Killick said the company found E coli on a piece of equipment in its plant.
However, none of its ice creams had tested positive for E coli.
Killick and Fonterra both said the contaminations were unrelated and Fonterra did not sell cream to Deep South.