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Current as of 19/09/14 04:40PM NZST

Fonterra cream recall sparks illness concerns

By Matthew Backhouse, Patrice Dougan

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

News that Fonterra has recalled some batches of fresh cream has people worried that illness they have suffered is due to consuming the contaminated product.

Fonterra says only three people have contacted it to report symptoms following its voluntary recall of nearly 9000 bottles of Anchor and Pams brand fresh cream.

The dairy giant said signs of the E.coli bacteria - which can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting - had been found in tests of its cream which had been distributed in parts of the North Island.

A number of people contacted the New Zealand Herald with concerns they had contracted the bug.

One man, who gave his name as Chevy, said he became "as crook as a dog" four hours after eating cream with a steamed pudding.

Another reader said she had a 24-hour bout of vomiting after using half a 300ml bottle of Pams cream with the contaminated batch number.

Concerned mum Lia Tuporo, 25, said she would find it difficult to trust Fonterra after her 19-month-old son Jireh suffered a two-week bout of diarrhoea and illness after eating cream.

"I wouldn't recommend them to anyone," she said.

Fonterra Brands NZ managing director Peter McClure said that so far, only a few hundred of the 8700 recalled bottles had been returned.

"That would indicate that the vast majority has been purchased by consumers, and probably a fairly significant amount of that consumed."

The affected bottles had been on sale in the upper North Island, from Turangi across to Gisborne and further north, from about Wednesday last week, he said.

Fonterra had received 70 calls about the recall, mostly inquiries about the dates.

"Only three people have indicated any symptoms and those were relatively minor." The reported symptoms included "stomach upset".

Consumers with any concerns should contact a health professional, Mr McClure said.

Compensation had not been raised but that was something Fonterra would look at with individual consumers.

Mr McClure said E.coli had officially been confirmed today, but the exact type remained unknown and most had no effect whatsoever on humans.

The cause of contamination was not yet known but it would have happened after pasteurisation. It was not yet known how long it would take to complete an investigation.

The Ministry of Health said it had not received any calls today about illness linked to the recalled products.

A Countdown spokeswoman said the supermarket had not received any complaints or reports of illness to do with the recall, and only a couple of calls from customers this morning to confirm product information and dates.

Foodstuffs, which runs the Pak'n Save and New World supermarkets, said there had been a steady flow of customer queries today, with most people asking whether the cream they had purchased was safe.

The number of items returned to stores was in the single digits, and sales of cream did not appear to have been impacted negatively by the recall, with sales at normal levels.

Dairy products were particularly susceptible to E.coli contamination because of the prevalence of the bacteria in animal faeces, said professor Kurt Krause, head of the biochemistry department at Otago University and director of the Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Mr Krause said it raised the question of whether something in Fonterra's pasteurisation process had gone wrong.

Federated Farmers said the recall showed the co-operative put "food safety first" and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council asked people to keep some perspective, saying product recalls are "a fact of life".

Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor said the recall "once again tests the credibility of our food safety systems".

He called for a stand-alone food safety agency to ensure food production "can be accurately and independently monitored".

- APNZ

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