Japanese dairy company Snow Brand Milk Products has secretly dismissed two senior officials and punished 29 others because of their role in the incident, according to company sources.
 
Last summer, bacteria-tainted powdered skimmed milk from the company's Taiki plant was responsible for a massive outbreak of food poisoning in western Japan that left one consumer dead and about 13,400 people ill.

The action, which was not even made known among the company, has revealed a tacit acceptance of professional negligence on a wide scale. Former Snow Brand president Tetsuro Ishikawa and former managing director Hiroshi Soma have already stepped down to take responsibility for the incident. In response to the in-house punishments however, investigators from Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office today began a search of the company's head office in Sapporo, Hokkaido, and Ishikawa's Tokyo home, hoping for evidence to clarify how other executives handled information they received on the poisoning incident.

Earlier today, the Kyodo News reported that officers from the company are adamant that the recent action was taken in response to an in-house probe, and had nothing to do with the findings of investigators looking into the incident.

The two senior officials asked earlier to resign, a 51-year-old former head of the Taiki plant and a 44-year-old production department chief at the factory, are among nine officials originally cited by prosecutors in March on suspicion of professional negligence. So too are the two former chiefs at the Osaka plant, who have been suspended for between one and three months. From the remaining 27 employees to have been secretly punished, three were also on the prosecutors' list.

The company has repeatedly been blamed for failing to take swift action during the incident, and it was left to the Osaka municipal government to order Snow Brand to recall its products and announce the food poisoning outbreak to the public.

By Clare Harman, just-food.com editorial team