Heinz's China operation has recalled four batches of one of its infant food lines after local food safety regulators said they had found “excessive amounts of lead” during an inspection.
On Friday, regulators in eastern Zhejiang province announced they had discovered lead in excess of legal levels in 400g boxes of Heinz’s AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal line.
Today, Heinz revealed it is recalling the batches as a precaution, with the company quick to point out the localised nature of the withdrawal.
"This relates to an isolated regional withdrawal in eastern China," company spokesman Michael Mullen told Reuters. "Extensive testing confirmed that no other Heinz baby food varieties are affected.”
The excessive levels of lead were identified during a regular food inspection, with 614 boxes of the baby cereal product subsequently sealed by the Zhejiang Provincial Food and Drug Administration.
In corporate apology to consumers, Heinz said its own investigation showed materials in one batch of degreased soybean cereals used in the product contained varying levels of lead.
The Zhejiang authorities said the recall affected 1,472 boxes in the province, and that they had been told by Heinz that it would destroy the other 153 boxes in a warehouse in the southern city of Guangzhou. Reuters has reported that the regulator has urged Heinz to compensate its customers.
In its statement, Heinz said it "apologises for any inconvenience caused and would like to assure consumers that Heinz is 100 percent committed to food quality and safety”.
Latest concern for consumers
Lead exposure is especially dangerous for children, inhibiting intellectual and physical development. It can cause poor concentration, disruptive behaviour and even death when subjected to high levels.
Chinese consumers are currently extremely wary of processed food products, not least as the Heinz incident comes less than a month after police seized almost 12 tonnes of yoghurt sweets tainted with melamine.
Shortly before that, a TV crew filmed footage of staff repackaging expired meat at an US-owned factory that shipped its products to restaurants across China owned by a number of international food-chains.