NEW ZEALAND – Independent testing has discovered that recalled batches of Fonterra Whey Protein Concentrate contained no Clostridium botulinum bacteria but did yield positive for Clostridium sporogenes.
No known food safety concerns are associated with Clostridium sporogenes as it does not create botulism toxins.
However, scientists have stated sporogenes bacteria, in elevated levels, is capable of food spoilage from growth of bacterial spores.
In all, 195 independent tests were undertaken by AgResearch New Zealand and laboratories in the US.
The tests were commissioned as precautionary action taken following Fonterra’s notification to the government on Friday 2 August after initial AgResearch tests raised alarm bells.
It was feared that 1,000 tonnes of WPC 80, a whey protein powder used in sports drinks and infant milk formula, had become contaminated.
A full product tracing and recall operation was announced to protect consumers in the seven countries where the contaminated powder was headed.
MPI Acting director general, Scott Gallacher said that the response was necessary due to consumers facing a ‘food safety risk’.
“I immediately adopted a precautionary approach to protect consumers both here and overseas,” said Mr Gallacher. “We needed to act on what we knew at that time. The information we had then said there was a food safety risk to consumers and we moved quickly to address it.”
Fonterra Chief Executive, Theo Spierings apologised for the confusion and anxiety caused by the precautionary recall and said there was now a shared sense of relief at Fonterra.
“We have just learned of the further and definitive test results,” said Mr Spierings. “While we share a sense of relief about them, this in no way lessens our commitment to undertaking a thorough review into what happened, and to learn from this experience.”
He said that, if there was ever a repeat contamination scare, then he would exercise the same precautionary measures again and reiterated that food safety is a top priority.
“I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment. Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again.
“Food safety and quality must always remain our top priority. I have created a new role of Group Director, Food Safety and Quality that reports directly to me. Fonterra already has world-class food safety systems, and we’ll make sure that our dedication to food safety is further embedded in everything we do.
“The news today does not affect the various reviews and inquiries underway. We are committed to learning from, and sharing, any findings about how we can improve. We will do this in an open and transparent way,” Mr Spierings said.
Mr Gallacher announced he will revoke his statement issued under the Food and Animal Products Act and that the MPI is to compiling a ‘full diagnostic report’, to be released soon.
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