A Wellington teenager went into anaphylactic shock on Wednesday after eating a sausage mistakenly labelled as dairy free.
Hellers has recalled a batch of its Original Sizzlers after discovering they were cheese sausages in the wrong packaging, but the recall didn't come soon enough for 14-year-old Meaghan Robertson Serjeantson.
The Roseneath girl was rushed to hospital with hives and her throat closing after eating the sausages.
"I was home alone. I was cooking myself lunch and I had, like, eaten most of the hot dog and realised it felt kind of funny," she told the Herald.
Meaghan, who has severe allergies to dairy products, as well as some types of nuts, eggs, and kiwifruit, noticed the sausages were greasier than usual, but masked the taste with tomato sauce and chopped onions.
She has never tasted cheese before so mistakenly assumed the clumps in the middle of the sausage were bits of fat.
"Ten minutes later I started getting hives and stuff."
She called her mother, who was about 15 minutes from home, and the pair rushed to Wellington Hospital.
"I looked like a tomato and when the nurse saw my face she just skipped triage."
Meaghan needed two doses of adrenaline, as well as oxygen and steroids. She and her mother were in the hospital for about nine hours.
"She's a pretty tough nut. She's dealt with allergies, excema and asthma from year one," said father Kevin Robertson.
The family placed a "high reliance" on food labelling to keep Meaghan safe.
More chilling was the thought that it was not uncommon for the family to take a bag of the sausages with them if they went camping.
"That's the sort of circumstance that could have ended in a fatality," Robertson said.
Hellers received a phone message on Tuesday night about the mispackaging, and the message was cleared on Wednesday morning.
Hellers has notified the Ministry of Primary Industries and issued a recall notice on any of the affected sausages of the original Sizzler 450g packs with a best-before date of November 3.
About 800 packs were released to the supermarket warehouses but Hellers was not yet able to say how many had been sold to customers. The company expected to have that information by the middle of next week.
"We have a very robust investigation process to establish whether there is indeed an issue and, if so, the cause of the issue and then activate a series of steps to ensure a responsible and quick response to the situation, including product recalls where required," said Hellers chief executive John McWhirter.
Sale of the sausages has been halted and supermarkets have put up notices advising of the recall.
"Advertising is but one part of the efforts made to notify consumers. Collectively, between MPI, Hellers and the retailers every effort is made to inform consumers of the recall."
A recall notice is booked to be put into newspapers on Saturday and Sunday, but Robertson said more needed to be done sooner to notify people who have already bought the sausages.
"There should be an attempt to contact people," he said. "As soon as a member of the public reported it, they should have immediately issued a warning - rather than saying nothing. While they investigated, lives were put at risk - lives are still at risk."
A Tauranga mother is also upset that more information wasn't put out sooner.
The woman, who didn't want to be named, said she was the one who left the voice message for Hellers on Tuesday night after her 8-year-old daughter had a reaction to the same sausages.
"We had sizzlers for dinner and my daughter sort of straight away said 'I've got an itchy throat'."
Upon closer inspection the family saw the cheese inside the sausages and immediately put the child on antihistamines.
Thanks to early detection and the girl only consuming a small amount of the cheese, no epipen was needed.
The mother said she received a phone call from McWhirter the next day about the incident, and at the time she felt Hellers was going to get the matter sorted quickly.
However, she did not feel enough information was put online and in newspapers to warn people about the error.