14 Jan 2014

Three made ill after eating recalled cream

9:51 pm on 14 January 2014

Fonterra is still trying to establish exactly how thousands of bottles of fresh cream were contaminated by the potentially dangerous bacteria E.coli.

E.coli has been found in Anchor Cream

E.coli has been found in Anchor Cream Photo: SUPPLIED

The New Zealand dairy company has been forced to recall 8700 bottles of Pams and Anchor branded cream after testing positive for the bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

The cream was sent to retail and service outlets in the upper North Island from Northland to Turangi and including Gisborne. No other products are affected.

Fonterra says most of the bottles have been sold and most likely already consumed. Three people have complained to the company of being ill after eating the cream.

The company announced the recall on Monday night and says it doesn't know what E.coli strain is causing the contamination or how it got into the cream processed at its Takanini plant in Auckland.

Fonterra's brands managing director Peter McClure told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday that 70 people have called its hotline, including three that have complained of illness.

"I'll have my team working on this until we are able to determine the root cause. This is highly unusual, very infrequent and I think consumers can be reassured by the fact that we've had such a long period without this occurring and that our testing systems have highlighted it and we've moved to withdraw it quickly."

Peter McClure.

Peter McClure. Photo: SUPPLIED

Mr McClure said the majority of the bottles of fresh cream recalled have been sold and most likely already consumed.

Last week, French food company Danone announced it was terminating its contract with Fonterra and seeking compensation through the High Court in New Zealand and in Singapore over its handling of a botulism scare last year.

Danone is the parent company of manufacturer Nutricia, which was forced to recall infant formula including 67,000 cans in New Zealand alone, after Fonterra incorrectly warned that it could be contaminated with the potentially fatal bacteria in August 2013.

Expert points to packaging

A food safety expert suggested on Tuesday that the latest food safety scare is the result of contamination during packaging.

Steve Flint, a professor of food safety at Massey University, said most strains of E.coli are harmless, but a small number can cause serious food poisoning.

Professor Flint said it is highly unusual to find E.coli in cream, as it should have been killed by pasteurisation. He believed it is likely that contamination occurred during the packaging process.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Willy Lefrink said it's not good to see Fonterra making headlines for food contamination again and is concerned the recall will further dent the company's reputation.

Labour wants independent body

The Labour Party is questioning New Zealand's food safety systems.

Primary Industries spokesperson Damien O'Connor said on Tuesday that Fonterra appears to have used the appropriate testing, but the accuracy of the information it has been provided needs further scrutiny.

"We need an independent authority that can give clear, accurate and timely advice to any food exporter - Fonterra or anyone else. The fact that it's incorporated into MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) and possibly compromised by trade objectives, is something that has been alerted in the reports that we've seen recently."