The firm were accused of mis-packaging its Sizzlers sausages at its Wiri-based factory in September 2017 that led to the children consuming Cheese Sizzlers instead of Original Sizzlers.
The children, who were all allergic to milk, suffered allergic reactions, with one going into anaphylactic shock that required hospital treatment.
Following an investigation, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) took a prosecution decision against the company after discovering that Heller’s staff did not follow procedures.
Following the hearing, the company was fined $39,375 and ordered to pay $5,000 to each of the three victims along with court costs of $130. Prior to the verdict, Hellers had pleaded guilty to one Food Act 2014 charge of failing to ensure its food was safe and suitable.
MPI's manager of food compliance Melinda Sando said the incident could have been prevented if staff had cross-checked labels and the product itself before packing.
“The company had a duty to ensure its products were safe and suitable,” said Sando. “Proper labelling of allergens is a key requirement in discharging this duty and consumers should be able to rely on food labelling when making their purchasing decisions. This is especially so for those with food allergies.”
Since the incident, Hellers has put in place additional staff training and procedures to prevent the problem from re-occurring.
Also commenting on the prosecution was Allergy New Zealand’s chief executive Mark Dixon, who said it was a timely reminder that food businesses need to take allergen management seriously.
“The recent tragic death of Auckland teenager Edyn Rubena-Misilisi shows how dangerous accidental food allergic reactions can be,” said Dixon. "They [consumers] need the food industry to comply with regulations on food allergen management and labelling so they are able to access safe and suitable food wherever they are.”
GlobalMeatNews has contacted Hellers for comment on the incident.