5 Sep 2013

Fonterra explains what went wrong in botulism scare

12:32 pm on 5 September 2013

A series of unrelated incidents, which started with a small piece of plastic getting into whey powder at Fonterra's Hautapu milk plant, became the catalyst for Fonterra's botulism false alarm trade debacle.

That's the dairy company's take on events now that the dust has settled and an operational review has been completed.

Strategy director Maury Leyland said whey powder at Hautapu was reprocessed and filtered after Fonterra realised it contained a piece of plastic; reprocessing is not commonly done at the Waikato site.

Equipment that was not frequently used at the plant filtered the product and a transfer pipe involved in that process is suspected of causing the contamination.

But Ms Leyland said that was just the start and there was a one-off lapse in sharing information between two parts of the organisation which lead to delays in testing.

She said the issue should have been advanced to chief executive level sooner.

"And fourth during the time of manufacture in Australia we had a major upgrade of one of our computer systems at some of the sites that were affected, this was prior to the recall and had an impact on our product tracing and resulted in some parts of the tracing taking longer than it should have."

Ms Leyland said the size and complexity of precautionary product recall was a factor, particularly since some time had passed since the product was manufactured and the product had moved into customer supply chains and out of Fonterra's control.

Fonterra says it's introducing a range of measures to make sure it does not happen again including improvements to people management, food production standards, quality control, testing and responding to incidents.

It has also appointed a Food Safety and Quality director - and established a food quality hotline for staff and contractors so they can raise any issues they have internally.