Karicare infant formula affected by contamination

By Christopher Adams, BusinessDesk staff

The Ministry for Primary Industries says five batches of an infant formula sold in New Zealand were manufactured using a potentially contaminated Fonterra whey protein. Picture / Richard Robnson.
The Ministry for Primary Industries says five batches of an infant formula sold in New Zealand were manufactured using a potentially contaminated Fonterra whey protein. Picture / Richard Robnson.

The Ministry for Primary Industries says five batches of an infant formula product sold in New Zealand were manufactured using a potentially contaminated Fonterra whey protein.

The affected product is Nutricia Karicare follow-on formula for children from 6 months old, the ministry said.

"Nutricia has advised that three of those [five] batches are in a warehouse in Auckland, one is on a ship, and the other is in storage in Australia," said the ministry's acting director general, Scott Gallacher. "Nutricia has advised it has locked down those batches, and they will not be sold on the market ... MPI is still in the process of verifying this information, and today sent a team to Nutricia's Auckland warehouses."

Gallacher said that until the verification process was completed, parents should use Karicare formula for children 0-6 months or an alternative brand.

Fonterra says eight of its customers are potentially affected by the contamination of three batches of WPC80 whey protein, manufactured in May 2012, which are suspected of containing a bacteria that can cause botulism, a potentially fatal illness.

The whey protein is used to make a range of products, including infant formula and sports drinks.

A dirty pipe at Fonterra's Hautapu plant has been blamed for the contamination.

Fonterra has also confirmed the whey powder at the centre of the botulism alert was shipped to customers at the time of its production, meaning it has been in the manufacturing supply chain for more than a year.

The managing director for Fonterra subsidiary NZ Milk Products, Gary Romanov said "at this time (May 2012), the product passed all quality tests and was subsequently shipped to customers."

He disclosed also that the "surprise" discovery of the "very rare" form of a commonly occurring bacteria, Clostridium Botulinum, had occurred as a result of Fonterra seeking to use some of the 38 tonne batch in manufacturing product for a third party customer.

"The test that indicated the presence of Clostridrium was of a third party manufacture product," he said. Fonterra first got test results indicating a problem in March and, after extensive testing, found the bacteria linked to the deadly illness, botulism, on July 31.

It notified customers immediately and made the issue public today. Chief executive Theo Spierings is on his way to China from Europe for talks with affected customers, whom Fonterra has declined to name because each must make its own decisions on how to notify end users.

The whey protein powder is used in infant formula and sports drinks, and none of Fonterra's own brands are affected.

The New Zealand Infant Formula Manufacturers Association immediately issued a statement saying "none of our members are affected."

None of our members use Fonterra WPC 80 in the production of their infant formula," said the association's chief administrative officer, Chris Claridge.

"There have been no reports of any illness linked to consumption of the affected whey protein. Dairy products such as fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, spreads and UHT milk products are not affected," said Spierings in the initial statement earlier today on the issue, which is the latest in a string of food safety scares for the dairy cooperative, New Zealand's largest business.

- APNZ

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