Itoham plans huge recall of meat, pizza

Kyodo News

Itoham Foods Inc. will voluntarily recall 2.67 million packages of sausages, pizzas and other products that might be tainted by toxic cyanogen compounds detected last month in well water it uses, the company said Saturday.

The recall affects 13 products: nine types of sausages, including Arabiki Gourmet Vienna Sausage, and four kinds of pizzas. It will also include expired products.

The major meat producer is testing two categories of sausages to see if they contain remains of the toxic compounds. The results will come out on Thursday.

“We deeply apologize for causing trouble to consumers and business partners,” said Itoham Foods Executive Director Shinichi Yamada at a press conference Saturday night.

Itoham said it believes the products in question will not affect the human body if eaten and that it hasn’t received any reports about related health problems so far.

The company found the toxic substances in water from two of the three wells at its factory in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.

The major ham and sausage maker said that it detected 0.02 to 0.03 mg per liter of cyanide ion and cyanogen chloride in the water, which exceeds the government’s residue standard of 0.01 mg per liter.

Itoham first detected the toxic substances on Sept. 18, during its regular quarterly water examination. After the chemicals surfaced a week later in another well during retesting, it stopped using water from both wells, it said.

As for the why the company failed to immediately disclose the September finding, Yamada said company officials failed to report it to the head office until Wednesday.

“It was inappropriate and we are gravely repentant,” said Yamada.

The water is used to produce the food and wash the manufacturing machines, the company said.

Although the company did not detect the substances in any of the wells during tests on Oct. 14, it is still refraining from using the two wells in question, it added.

Kashiwa City announced Saturday that the concentrations of the toxic cyanogens were found below the government standard during an inspection Friday. Tatsuya Kakita, who has written several books on food safety, criticized Itoham for not disclosing its findings immediately after the toxic substances were detected in September.

“It placed priority on protecting the company,” he said.

The lesson learned from the “gyoza” incident involving frozen dumplings from China, Kakita said, was that companies need to inform the public about problems as soon as possible to protect consumers.

“Even if the amount detected was low, it may affect human health when consumed on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s too late after health concerns surface.”