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3 Aug, 2013 14:29

NZ dairy giant sounds new baby milk contamination alert

NZ dairy giant sounds new baby milk contamination alert

The world’s largest dairy exporter has warned some of its products including infant formula could contain potentially deadly bacteria. Some 870 tons of tainted milk products could now be recalled from the countries they were exported to.

New Zealand’s dairy giant Fronterra has sent out an alert to its clients saying some of its whey protein concentrate, produced in May of last year, could be contaminated with bacteria that can trigger botulism – a potentially deadly paralytic disease.

Products potentially containing the tainted ingredient include infant formulas and sports drinks which were were shipped to Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam.

We are acting quickly. Our focus is to get information out about potentially affected product as fast as possible so that it can be taken off supermarket shelves and, where it has already been purchased, can be returned,” Fonterra’s Chief Executive Theo Spierings said in a statement.

Considering the products were manufactured a year ago, some of them could already have been consumed. There have, nevertheless, been no reports of any botulism cases linked to Fronterra products.

New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said health authorities around the world had also been alerted to the contamination. 

"This has included formally notifying Infosan, the World Health Organization's international food safety regulators network. As more information on this issue is confirmed we will provide our trading partners with further updates,” AFP cites Groser as saying. 

Cows eat feed in a barn on the 35-hectare farm managed by New Zealand dairy export giant Fonterra Co-operative Group (Reuters/David Gray)

Three batches of Fronterra whey protein concentrate produced at Hautapu manufacturing facility in May of last year have recently tested positive for Clostridium botulinum.

The batches were used “to form 870 tons of consumer products sold in a variety of markets” according to the Ministry for Primary Industries' Acting Director General, Scott Gallacher.

The harm a tainted product may do to one’s health depends upon the age and the amount that person consumed, according to Fonterra's managing director of New Zealand milk products, Gary Romano. Romano says that for an adult, a small amount of contaminated whey protein "would probably pass through unnoticed."

The alert is not the first time Fronterra has had to recall milk products. In 2008, a Chinese dairy company 43% owned by Fronterra had to recall more than 10,000 tonnes of infant milk powder containing melamine. An estimated 300,000 Chinese babies were affected and six died after developing kidney problems.

The botulism alert is also a blow to New Zealand’s current reputation as boosting the highest safety standards among milk producers in the region. New Zealand is responsible for a third of the world's dairy exports, which account for a quarter of; the country's total export revenues.