Mushroom firm reassures public

By Doug Laing

1 comment
Te Mata Mushrooms owner Michael Whitaker is assuring the public that their mushrooms are safe to eat. Photo / Duncan Brown
Te Mata Mushrooms owner Michael Whitaker is assuring the public that their mushrooms are safe to eat. Photo / Duncan Brown

The mushroom company neighbouring the Hastings District Council's Brookvale bores has moved to reassure public of the safety of its product amid the illness crisis now estimated to have hit more than a quarter of Havelock North's 13,000 residents.

Te Mata Mushrooms owner Michael Whitaker reaffirmed to Hawke's Bay Today late yesterday that the company's own bore, less than 500 metres from the two council bores, had shown no sign of E. coli when tested on Monday at the first opportunity amid the campylobacter outbreak which put more than 20 people in hospital.

Water samples from this bore have been independently tested and have returned a zero E.coli count.
Michael Whitaker, TeMataMushrooms

Only one member of the company's 120 staff had come down with the illness, not a statistic he believed would indicate the site as the source of the bug. There had also been no earlier links, for a company he says is one of the "most-inspected" in the Hawke's Bay horticultural industry, after issues around odour emission, which led to prosecution earlier this year.

"We've got a huge amount of compliance," Mr Whitaker said.

Using social media forum Facebook earlier yesterday, the company said: "In light of the current outbreak of illness in Havelock North, we want to assure our customers that our mushrooms are safe to eat."

"The water used on the farm is sourced from our own bore," said the company, which was unsure if its water came from the same Te Mata Aquifer as sourced by the council.

"Water samples from this bore have been independently tested and have returned a zero E. coli count - meaning that the water we use is safe for consumption and for use in a horticultural environment."

It said while initial tests did not look for campylobacter, the plant's bore was resampled on Tuesday, and is being tested for both E. coli and campylobacter, the company said.

But it wasn't a defensive stance from Mr Whitaker, who said the company has opened "every square metre" of the site to those looking for the source of the bugs that infiltrated the supply from the council bores and is "co-operating in every way," in its own concern for the community of which the mushroom farm has been a part for almost 50 years.

It has been reported to use chicken manure in its operation, but Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule has warned against any conjecture, which Mr Whitaker says is "irresponsible", while the authorities are dealing with the public health emergency that erupted with a wave of absences from schools in Havelock North late last week.

"I'd be very careful that there is no finger-pointing going-on," Mr Yule said, at one of the daily media conferences.

Mr Whitaker said: "I don't think it's time for conjecture. It is important that facts come before fiction, and it will be what it is."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council group manager of resource management Iain Maxwell said the council's environmental science team had been undertaking extensive testing of the Te Mata Aquifer to understand its water quality and to help the district council and Hawke's Bay District Health Board in determining the source of the contamination. Staff had been active since Monday this week testing a range of bores across the aquifer to understand whether "this issue" is localised or wider spread.

"We want to understand the condition of our aquifer and to start to build a picture of the source of the contamination so we can fix the issue," Mr Maxwell said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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