A dairy company in New Zealand has been fined for falsifying almost 200 positive Listeria results between 2012 and 2016.

Epicurean Dairy Ltd., and the company’s former general manager Angus Allan, pleaded guilty to 10 charges of failing to report positive environmental Listeria results at Waitakere District Court this past week. A total of 190 positive Listeria results went unreported between October 2012 and August 2016.

The company, which makes dairy products under The Collective brand, and its former directors were fined NZ $483,000 (U.S. $307,300) following an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The firm was fined NZ $369,000 (U.S. $234,800). Allan was fined NZ $54,000 (U.S. $34,350). Court costs of NZ $80,000 (U.S. $51,000) were also imposed. Charges relate to the firm’s operations in New Zealand and no other markets are affected.

Former operations manager, Ilya Pyzhanhov, was convicted and fined NZ $60,000 (U.S. $38,200) after pleading guilty earlier this year to five charges of deliberately withholding positive environmental Listeria results.

Anonymous tip-off
The charges followed an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries after officials were given information about the West Auckland company from a confidential informant.

Product was not affected and there were no consumer health problems reported. Since the MPI investigation, the company has replaced the worn factory floor where Listeria was present and it continues to operate with no further issues, according to officials.

MPI’s director of compliance, Gary Orr, said that from 2012 to 2016 the company failed to report positive Listeria results taken from a floor at the company’s factory in Avondale and that it also falsified official related records.

“The company was regularly audited to ensure its manufacturing environment was in accordance with regulatory requirements but it lied about what the true situation was. The part of the factory that was producing positive environmental Listeria results was an area where the most stringent food safety requirements applied. It was where yogurt and cheese was being produced for human consumption.”

Orr said both of the former directors who were convicted and fined were fully aware of and party to the deception.

“It’s clear that if the company had reported the positive results, there would’ve been significant costs associated with remedying the problem, which included replacing a cracked and unhygienic floor, as well as a halt to production due to the work that needed to be done. When offending of this nature is detected, we will hold those responsible for it to account.”

In February this year, Epicurean Dairy recalled certain batches of The Collective brand Raspberry Hibiscus Skyr due to large pieces of hibiscus petals which could pose a choking risk. The flavored yogurt was sold in supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

In a statement, Epicurean Dairy Limited said it understands there will be concern about charges relating to historical misreporting of test results in its factory environment three years ago.

“We want to apologize and reassure everyone that food safety is a top priority for us and that no unsafe products were ever sold to the public. The factory manager who was responsible for this reporting left the business three years ago. There have been no issues with non-reporting since then.

“We conducted a thorough independent investigation and made significant updates to our factory and processes. We have been working closely with MPI long before the misreporting instances and since. Together, we have undertaken a frequent testing and auditing program and have now achieved MPI’s highest level rating possible for our quality systems.”

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