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Japan baby formula radiation fears raised as early as mid-November

By Nilpa Shah , 14-Dec-2011

Three calls were received on 14 Nov regarding possible contamination of 'Meiji Step'
Three calls were received on 14 Nov regarding possible contamination of 'Meiji Step'

Following the discovery of radioactive substances in its baby milk formula, it has now emerged that Meiji Holdings Co. was contacted about possible contamination three weeks before it decided to recall the products.

Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, the company confirmed that it received three “inquiries” about the “detection of trace amounts of radioactive materials” in its Meiji Step milk formula on 14 November.

A spokesman for the company said that “one of the inquiries was made by an anonymous caller and the other two were made from concerned customers that cited information they discovered on the internet.”

The Japanese food firm did not issue a product recall until 6 December, following tests conducted on 3 and 4 December, which detected traces of cesium-134 and cesium-137.

“Unable to confirm” information

The spokesman said that Meiji viewed the websites cited by the callers but were “unable to confirm the related information” at the time. He added that immediately following these three calls, the company “did not receive similar inquiries.”

He explained that Meiji then received “a detailed inquiry” on 28 November, at which point it “quickly realised the importance of this information and determined that further investigation was necessary.”

In a statement made regarding its decision to recall the products, Meiji said that the levels of cesium detected (22 to 31 Bq/kg) are “considered to have no adverse effect on infants even if the product is consumed daily” because they are below guideline safety levels set out by food hygiene regulations.

However, it added that it was recalling the potentially contaminated products in order to maintain consumer confidence.

Contamination caused by “heated atmospheric air”

In its statement, Meiji also said that “all ingredients used” in its products were produced before the Japanese earthquake that occurred on 11 March.

The Tokyo-based manufacturer added: “As for the water in which ingredients were dissolved, Meiji has been monitoring it on a regular basis, confirming that no radioactive contaminants have been detected.”

It therefore considers that the contamination was caused by the drying process which “involves exposure to a large amount of heated atmospheric air”, adding that this air contained “radioactive contaminants” as a result of the nuclear fallout from the Fukushima disaster.

This is the first time that any radioactive substances have been detected in baby food since Fukushima and the company has now said that it plans on conducting regular tests to ensure the “continued provision of safe and reliable products.”

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