INFORMATION FALSIFIED

Snow lied after milk-poisoning case

OSAKA — Officials of Snow Brand Milk Products Co. on Tuesday said that a valve at an Osaka production facility found to be contaminated with a toxin-causing bacteria was used almost every day, and not rarely as it had claimed Saturday.

The company, whose low-fat milk has caused widespread food poisoning in the Kansai region over the past week, admitted to falsifying information about the scale of the valve’s contamination at the company’s Miyakojima plant.

The false information, which the company said came from an employee in charge of cleaning the valve who it said had lied to the company about maintenance work, was contained in a report submitted to the Osaka Municipal Government.

The company said the valve was rarely used when it announced Saturday that it had been contaminated with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

It also said that the area of contamination was about the size of a 10 yen coin, but health officials found the area to be much larger during a Monday inspection.

The officials said Tuesday that the valve was used almost every day in June over a period of more than three weeks without being cleaned. Company guidelines call for the valve to be cleaned on a weekly basis.

The company said Saturday that records show the valve had not been cleaned since June 2.

In response, Osaka Municipal Government officials said they will conduct on-the-spot inspections since the company’s reports are untrustworthy.

A Kyodo News tally compiled at 11 a.m. Tuesday showed that 8,969 people in eight prefectures in the Kansai region had fallen ill, apparently after drinking low-fat milk produced at the plant.

Forty people are still being treated at hospitals.

Many major supermarkets are now refusing to sell Snow Brand’s products.

Mycal Corp. has stopped selling the company’s low-fat milk and two kinds of its yogurt drinks. It says it never stocked cartons of low-fat milk produced at Snow Brand’s Osaka plant.

Ito-Yokado Co. and Jusco Co. have also stopped selling Snow Brand low-fat milk.

Debt rating unchanged

Moody’s Investors Service Inc. said Tuesday that Snow Brand Milk Products Co.’s ability to repay its debt is unlikely to be affected immediately by the recent widespread outbreak of food-poisoning linked to low-fat milk produced at its Osaka plant.

The major U.S. credit-rating agency confirmed its A3 rating for Snow Brand’s credit quality and said the outlook remains stable.

Damages directly associated with the food-poisoning outbreak will be manageable for the leading Japanese maker of dairy products, Moody’s said.

It is not yet clear, however, how consumers will react to the incident over the longer term, the agency said.

Moody’s will continue to monitor consumer behavior to see whether Snow Brand’s operations and brand image are affected, it said.