Fonterra's decision to recall 8,700 bottles of potentially E.coli-contaminated fresh cream proves only that the cooperative's "quality assurance system works," New Zealand dairy farmer representative, Federated Farmers, has claimed.
In a statement issued yesterday, Federated Farmers Dairy chairman, Willy Leferink, jumped to Fonterra’s defence, stating that this week’s recall shows that it is “a responsive and responsible processor of food.”
Earlier this week, Fonterra Brands NZ announced that it was recalling 300ml and 500ml bottles of Anchor and Pams brands fresh cream with a best before date of 21 January 2014 from retail and foodservice outlets on New Zealand’s North Island.
The recall, which was initiated after standard in-house testing revealed that the products may be contaminated with E.coli, was announced in the midst of continuing fallout from Fonterra’s recent whey protein concentrate (WPC) contamination scare.
“While the timing is far from ideal given what went on last year, this is a voluntary recall initiated by Fonterra’s own testing,” said Leferink.
“I hope it shows our consumers that a company owned by thousands of Kiwi farmers does put food safety first," he added.
Damage international reputation
Weighing in, the New Zealand Labour Party and the New Zealand Green Party raised concerns about the impact of the recall on the international reputation of New Zealand exports.
“Fonterra is our biggest company, food production is our biggest export and New Zealand cannot afford mistakes that can further damage our international reputation,” said Labour’s Primary Industries spokesperson, Damien O’Connor.
The New Zealand Green Party has meanwhile called on Fonterra to “quickly and comprehensively” resolve this issue to prevent further damage to New Zealand’s "clean green and safe image."
“Fonterra is linked to Brand New Zealand,” said Green Party agriculture spokesperson, Steffan Browning, “when they fail, we suffer.”
“Fonterra needs to act quickly and comprehensively so that they can reassure the public they know what the source of the contamination is.”
“Another contamination scare is not the start to the year that Fonterra or New Zealand needs,” Browning added.
No reports of illness
According to reports, tests on cream manufactured on 6 January 2014 at Fonterra’s Takanini plant discovered high levels of coliform – a bacterium that can indicate the presence of E.coli. Further tests confirmed its presence, the reports added.
While most strains of E.coli are considered harmless, certain ones can cause severe illness in humans.
This week’s recall comes within months of the Fonterra's widely reported WPC botulism scare.
In August 2013, Fonterra issued an alert to eight customers over concerns that three batches of WPC potentially contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum had entered the supply chain.
In response, potentially contaminated products were pulled from shelves across Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East.
Test later revealed, however, that the initial alert was a false alarm.