Snow Brand coverup suspected in food poisonings

Kyodo

A Nagano Prefecture unit of Snow Brand Milk Products Co., mired in fresh revelations concerning the massive food poisoning that hit western Japan earlier this summer, may have hidden information about possible product contamination from health authorities, local government sources said Thursday.

Officials of the prefecture’s section on food and environment started questioning people at the Chino plant of Yatsugatake Snow Brand Milk Products on the matter, the sources said.

On Wednesday, the Chino plant started recalling some 125,000 packages of milk products manufactured from powdered skim milk shipped from Snow Brand’s Taiki plant in Hokkaido, following the announcement earlier in the day that high concentrations of enterotoxin A — a toxin produced by staphylococcus aureus bacteria — had been identified in samples of powdered milk produced there in April.

According to Nagano Prefecture, about 400 bags of powered milk produced on April 1 at the Taiki plant were delivered to the Chino plant on Aug. 12.

The Chino plant used 65 of the 400 bags to produce calcium-enriched milk and milk-coffee drinks on Aug. 14 and 15.

However, records show that the plant began using powdered milk from other Snow Brand plants on Aug. 16, even though there were still ingredients from the Taiki plant remaining, prefectural officials said.

The officials suspect the Chino plant became aware of the contamination of the powered milk from the Taiki plant at that point, but failed to report it to authorities and only decided on a voluntary recall after the contamination was publicly announced Wednesday, the sources said.

Local health authorities said they have so far received no reports of health problems caused by products made at the Chino plant.

It was also learned that no one at the Taiki plant had the proper knowledge of bacterial toxins, officials of the Hokkaido Prefectural Government said Thursday.

Those at the plant, including its head, told prefectural officials that they thought bacteria would die if they administered heat sterilization, the officials said.

The officials added they were not aware that enterotoxin A cannot be destroyed by heat sterilization of 100 degrees.

On Wednesday, the prefectural government said high concentrations of enterotoxin A were found in powdered skim milk made at the Taiki plant.

Meanwhile, Snow Brand said that 50 bags of powdered milk from the Taiki plant shipped to its Kobe plant in June have already been used as ingredients for milk products.

Snow said it will try to find out in which products the powdered milk in question was used, but added that most of the products made with the contaminated ingredients are no longer on store shelves because more than one month has passed since they were shipped from the Kobe plant.

According to the Kobe plant, the 50 bags of powdered milk, produced at the Taiki plant on April 1, arrived at the Kobe plant on June 19.

Records show that the powdered milk was used as ingredients for five varieties of milk products, including low-fat and calcium-enriched ones, between June 20 and 30, and shipped to the market a couple of days later.

A total of some 200 packs of the five products were shipped from the Kobe plant during the period.

Officials now believe it was the cause of widespread food poisoning from milk products shipped from Snow Brand’s Osaka plant that hit western Japan from late June to July.