Zespri gives all-clear on risk after contamination scare

By David Porter

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BIG SETBACK: Kiwifruit cartons were unloaded from the Ice Glacier after a contamination scare.PHOTO/FILE
BIG SETBACK: Kiwifruit cartons were unloaded from the Ice Glacier after a contamination scare.PHOTO/FILE

Zespri has announced it now has full confidence that the 1.7 million trays of kiwifruit currently on hold due to potentially contaminated packaging pose no risk to consumer safety. However, it will be ensuring all pallets are checked to maintain quality.

The fruit was put on hold in early April, following concern that small deposits of grease discovered on China-supplied Plix pocket packs could affect about 0.01 per cent of the 1.7 million trays of fruit.

Following the discovery, post-harvest operator Seeka Kiwifruit Industries has been working with Zespri to develop an ultraviolet-light testing unit and procedure.

Seeka said its testing with the UV process had found very low levels of contamination.

Zespri has sought advice from numerous domestic and international independent agencies on the compounds found in the grease to understand any risk it may pose to consumers.

Zespri's chief operating officer Simon Limmer said following that process, Zespri had concluded there was no risk to consumer health given the composition of the grease and the very small deposits potentially found on the packaging.

"Having confirmed there is no risk to human health, we now want to focus on ensuring all our fruit is delivered in top condition.

"This means we will now undertake a process to unpack, check and repack all trays of fruit in potentially affected packaging to ensure no product with any traces of grease gets to market."

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said he had been informed yesterday by Zespri that they were satisfied with the UV test procedure. Seeka product accounted for about one-third of the held shipment, more than half of its growers' fruit had now been tested, and he expected Zespri would now clear the checked fruit for release.

"Zespri have told us they have confidence in the checking process and that once the fruit has gone through the accredited checking process it will be okay to go."

Mr Franks said Seeka had now built a number of the UV test units with Zespri's input and they were being made available for use in the wider industry.

"We have told Zespri we are happy to continue to run the checking procedure for the industry if required until the problem is cleared. I'm just delighted that this innovation has worked and that growers tied up in this, through no fault of their own, won't suffer any financial loss."

Mr Limmer said Zespri was taking the extra step of checking the fruit to reassure customers and consumers it was of the same quality as all Zespri kiwifruit.

The process will be used to check and re-pack trays currently on hold in the market.

Once this process was finished, the remaining fruit would be released from hold.

"We thank and acknowledge the huge efforts of the industry in working through this issue," said Mr Limmer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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