Westland admits contamination

By Laura Mills

Westland Milk Products announced this afternoon that a “small amount” of lactoferrin powder with elevated nitrate levels has been exported to China.
The company says it believes traces of cleaning product had not been properly flushed from part of the Hokitika plant.
It said in a statement the contaminated product had been traced and quarantined, and the nitrate levels did not comprise a food safety risk.
The contamination was picked up by a customer, who informed Westland Milk on August 1. It then advised the Ministry of Primary Industries.
Westland Milk chief executive Rod Quin said two batches of lactoferrin (totalling 390kg) showed nitrate levels of 610 and 2198 parts per million respectively. The New Zealand maximum limit for nitrates was 150 parts per million.
The product was initially not identified as non-compliant during the company’s routine testing regime prior to export.
All 390kg of “non-complying” lactoferrin had been sent to China.
“We immediately initiated a process to find and quarantine all of the product, and it has been put on hold,” Mr Quin said.
Nitrates were a naturally occurring substance found in such foods as leafy green vegetables.
His statement said the issue was not the fact that it was present in the lactoferrin powder, but that the 390kg was over the allowable levels.
“Food safety is not the issue in this instance because lactoferrin is used as a very minor ingredient in food products. This means that, even if the lactoferrin with elevated nitrates had been added to food, the retail products would still have nitrate levels significantly below allowed limits.”
Westland also put a hold on all of its lactoferrin in its own warehouse and commenced re-testing all individual batches. All other lactoferrin product tested to date has returned results well below the New Zealand nitrates limit. No other Westland products were affected.
“Based on these results and our investigations to date, Westland is of the view it is an isolated incident in the lactoferrin plant only, where traces of cleaning products (which contain nitrates) were not adequately flushed from the plant prior to a new run of product. Our investigation is under way to establish the root cause and we have implemented corrective actions so we can ensure this does not happen again.”
Ministry officials were in Hokitika for a few hours yesterday to conduct an audit, the results of which were expected shortly.
Federated Farmers West Coast president Katie Milne said that after the Fonterra botulism scare everybody was “ultra-sensitive”.
She said supermarkets recalled food products all the time “and no one batted an eyelid”.
It proved Westland’s systems worked, she said.