Food safety officials in New Zealand are probing a series of botched recalls involving sugar because of lead contamination linked to transportation.

In early November, Chelsea Sugar recalled specific batches of Chelsea, Pams and Woolworths brand raw and brown sugar because of lead contamination.

Chelsea Sugar detected the issue as part of routine testing of product imported from Australia. It appears contamination occurred after the sugar was transported in a ship previously used for industrial materials.

On Nov. 19, Foodstuffs South Island recalled certain batches of Chelsea brand raw sugar 500-grams because of the same problem. It was made available to buy in error following the earlier recall.

One of the recalled products

One week later, Woolworths NZ also recalled some batches of Chelsea and Woolworths branded raw sugar and brown sugar products that were mistakenly sold.

This past week, New Zealand Sugar Company recalled additional batches of Woolworths brand raw sugar in 500-grams and 1-kilogram packages.

The implicated products were sold in paper and plastic packaging of various weights and via the bulk bins at selected retail outlets in October and November. They were also exported to American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

New Zealand Food Safety, part of the Ministry for Primary Industries, stepped in to investigate following the further recall of about 8,000 packs of Woolworths brand raw sugar from Countdown supermarkets nationwide. The agency has asked to see records from all the implicated companies.

New Zealand Sugar Company is thought to have provided incorrect information to supermarkets which resulted in them releasing the sugar to consumers in error.

Recalls not gone smoothly
Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general, said it has concerns over how the incident has unfolded.

“The affected product was subject to a previous recall because of the potential for low level lead contamination,” he said.

“The immediate food safety risk is considered to be low as the amount consumed will not cause illness. In addition, at the levels of lead detected someone would have to consume the contaminated product over a long period of time for it to be a concern.

“We expect businesses to run recalls smoothly in the interests of food safety, and that has clearly not happened here. To that end we have started an investigation to identify any issues within the businesses’ recall process. As part of this we are asking all companies involved for copies of their records.

“The errors by the companies involved are isolated incidents and do not reflect on the food recall system as a whole, which has served consumers well over time. However, these are big companies and we need to ensure their recall systems remain effective so that these types of incidents do not recur.”

Customers are asked to check the batch, date mark, and date of purchase of products. People that have affected items at home have been urged not to consume the sugar and return it to the place of purchase for a refund. For a full list of implicated sugar and where it was sold follow this link.

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