Blog: How safe are your products?

Catherine Sleep | 24 November 2005

Italian police seized around 30m litres of Nestlé baby milk on Tuesday after tests showed it was contaminated with traces of ink used in the packaging. The world’s largest food company also recalled baby milk from France, Portugal and Spain, sparking fears that a major global safety scare was about to break.

For many in the food industry the mere word ‘recall’ sends a shiver down the spine. After all, the cause of the UK's biggest ever recall earlier this year – the illegal red dye Sudan 1 – still haunts European food supplies. And if you’ve been working in the industry for some time you won’t have forgotten the devastating US ground beef recalls in 1997 and 2002.

Nestlé moved swiftly to allay fears that the recall would escalate, CEO Peter Brabeck calling it a “storm in a teacup”. More reassuringly, a spokesman for the European Commission said the European Food Safety Agency had analysed samples of the milk and determined that the chemical substance isopropylthioxanthone (ITX), while undesirable, should not cause a toxic threat in the levels detected.

So it appears Nestlé will weather this particular storm with no difficulty. Indeed, the share price has hardly flickered since the news broke. Brabeck said the recall would cost at most EUR2.5m (US$2.9m), an “absolutely negligible” amount to Nestlé.

What the case does highlight is the extent to which manufacturers are at the mercy of their suppliers. They might consider the high-risk areas to be raw and processed ingredients for use in their consumer products, but this incident has shown that even packaging from reputable suppliers, in this case Tetra Pak, can be a weak link.

Nestlé in the clear?


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