Contamination crisis

China halts import of NZ baby powder following botulinum contamination

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New zealand, Milk

China halts import of NZ baby powder following botulinum contamination
Asia-Pacific health ministries are closely following developments following the release of a food safety warning by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries before the weekend advising of instances of the Clostridium botulinum bacterium in several batches of the whey protein concentrate used to manufacture Nutricia’s Karicare infant formula.

Karicare is made by Nutricia and supplied by Fonterra. Fonterra announced over the weekend that it would remove over 1,000 tonnes of Karicare from shelves in New Zealand. 

It also told the MPI that the products initially suspected of contamination were exported to Australia, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

China ban

In China, which imports most of its milk powder from New Zealand, Reuters reported that the health ministry had halted the import of all Kiwi milk powder products to the country. The authorities have increased vigilance over all Kiwi dairy products coming into the country.

Moreover, Chinese producers who bought contaminated batches of the whey protein concentrate from New Zealand have been recalling products since Sunday.

China's largest beverage producer, Hangzhou Wahaha's Health Food, as well as infant nutrition company Dumex and state-owned food producer Shanghai Sugar Cigarette and Wine, were found to have imported contaminated dairy products from Fonterra, the largest dairy business in New Zealand, according to the China Food and Drug Administration.

One of the contaminated batches was being stored in Australia, however Nutricia said it had tested negative for the bacteria. Australia’s Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, believes only one Australian company imported the batch, and it has since been cleared.

In Malaysia, the health ministry has identified Nutricia Karicare follow-on formula products for children from 6 months old as the sole product that is possibly contaminated with bacteria that could lead to botulism. As a precautionary measure, all imports of the product will undergo a “hold, test and release” inspection with immediate effect.

"As a precautionary measure, parents and guardians who use the product are advised to not use it and to replace it with another brand for the time being​,” said Noraini Othman of the ministry’s food quality and safety division in a statement. So far, there have been no food safety incidents involving the product in the country.

NZ warns parents

In New Zealand, the MPI has recommended that any products in Nutricia’s Karicare range should not be given to infants until the ministry can confirm they are free of the Clostridium botulnum bacterium, said Scott Gallacher, its acting director-general.

"MPI has not been able to fully trace through Nutricia's supply chain which specific batches of its products may contain contaminated whey protein and which don't, and whether affected batches are in New Zealand stores​.

"In the meantime, I have decided to expand my precautionary advice and have issued another formal Director-General Statement under the Animal Products Act 1999 and the Food Act 1981​."

Gallacher added that it could be some days until the company could provide the ministry with information leading to a degree of safety assurance.

The ministry also stressed that there are no suggestions that any other infant formula products on the New Zealand market are affected.

Fonterra to explain delays

At a press conference in New Zealand, Fonterra insisted that it has developed a greater understanding of where the affected products have been shipped.

Gary Romano, Fonterra's head of NZ milk products, said the company was now confident all of the affected product containing the contaminated material was either being recalled, had already been secured, or the manufacturing process was such that there was no risk to health.

You can rest assured that Fonterra is doing everything possible to protect human health​,” he told reporters.

The issue of how long it took Fonterra to make the issue public, or to inform the government, would be “the subject of another press conference​,” Romano added.

We do understand that there are continuing questions over the timetables. We will give clarity on that at a future date​,” Romano said.

Related topics: Formulation, Oceania, Food safety, Dairy

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