Fonterra’s precautionary recall of whey protein concentrate (WPC) feared to be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum was “not the result of one single cause”, an internal operational review of the recall has found.
The investigation, which was headed-up by Fonterra’s Group Director of Strategy, Maury Leyland, found that the recall was the “result of a number of separate and unrelated events occurring in an unforeseen sequence.”
On 2 August, Fonterra issued a warning to eight customers that three batches of WPC potentially-contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum may have entered the supply chain. The alert led to product recalls across Australasia, Asia and the Middle East.
Tests have since confirmed that the bacteria found in the affected batches were not Clostridium botulinum, but Clostridium sporogenes – a non-toxic Clostridium strain.
Despite the false alarm, the New Zealand-based dairy cooperative has implemented a number of “improvements” designed to boost the effectiveness of its product recall and supply management systems.
“Even though the whey protein concentrate test result proved to be a false-positive, we are not going to miss this important opportunity to step up across our entire business,” said Fonterra CEO, Theo Spierings in a statement.
Lapse in information sharing
The operational review, which was launched by Spierings on 12 August, identified several issues.
“The decision to reprocesses the original WPC80 and not downgrade the product, in combination with the use of an item of non-standard equipment, was the cause of the contamination,” said a statement issued by Fonterra earlier today.
The operational review also found that a “one-off lapse in information sharing across two parts of the business led to delays in testing” and that the issue “should have been escalated to CEO-level earlier.”
An upgrade of computer systems at some Fonterra sites prior to the recall also meant that product tracing took “longer than it should have.”
Fonterra has also admitted that despite its “established domestic and international product recall systems, the size and complexity of the WPC80 recall was a factor.”
Improvements “well underway”
In response it handling of the precautionary recall, Fonterra has implemented a number of changes that it claims will increase its “focus on quality and safety across the end-to-end supply chain” and strengthen the cooperative’s “product recall and supply management systems.”
Commenting, Spierings said that implementation of these improvements is “well underway.”
“We have already created a new role of Group Director of Food Safety and Quality reporting directly to the CEO, strengthened the remit and scope of our Food Integrity Council, and launched an internal Food Safety and Quality Hotline for staff and contractors to escalate any concerns about potential food safety risks. We have also completed quality audits at our sensitive nutritional plants, including Hautapu,” said Spierings.