An alcohol importer and distributor in New Zealand has been fined for trying to sell products without legitimate bottle labels.

Importer Golden Grand Trading and distributor Mayajaal Holdings were sentenced in Auckland District Court in April following a prosecution by New Zealand Food Safety.

Golden Grand Trading pleaded guilty to three charges under the Food Act 2014, including being an unregistered importer, and Mayajaal Holdings pled guilty to one charge.

Golden Grand Trading was fined NZ $142,000 (U.S. $87,000) and Mayajaal Holdings $102,000 ($62,500). Both companies were ordered to share costs of $36,000 ($22,000) for disposal of the alcohol.

Cheaper bottles
Lot codes are laser-etched onto the glass bottle or printed on the label. They ensure traceability during a product recall and reassure consumers that the contents are genuine. 

The offending, between 2016 and 2019, included both companies possessing for sale or selling non-compliant alcohol involving some 5,534 bottles of imported spirits that had either no lot codes or stickers with a code that was not genuine. Investigators seized all liquor from their distribution warehouse. Another 30 bottles were recalled, seven were found at a liquor store, and two other bottles from an online purchase were also seized. A sample of the liquor was tested, and it was found that the product was genuine.

“Label integrity matters, and when businesses try to get around the rules, they are at best-deceiving consumers, and at worst putting them at risk,” said Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director general.

“Consumers deserve to know that the product they are consuming is safe and suitable, and the lot numbers help provide that assurance. Also, if a recall was required, the lack of a lot of code would make it difficult for us to trace the affected product.”

Arbuckle said the companies tried to avoid following the rules to save money.

“Our investigators found the importers bought thousands of liquor bottles with lot codes removed and that it was cheaper – by nearly 7.5 percent. When we find evidence of non-compliance, such as lot codes being tampered with, we will take action, including removing products from shelves and, in serious cases, placing the offending before the courts.”

The sentencing is part of a wider Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigation called Operation Spirit. In 2022, another Auckland liquor importing company was fined more than NZ $150,000 (U.S. $91,900) for importing thousands of liquor bottles with lot codes tampered with or removed.

Outbreak news
Meanwhile, an outbreak of salmonellosis was reported from the Canterbury district in March, involving six children who attended a school camp. Patients are part of a cluster of 21 Salmonella Typhimurium cases in the South Island since February. No source has yet been identified.

An outbreak of campylobacteriosis was reported from Canterbury in February, involving 12 patients. Cases were part of a group of visiting foreign students attending a course at a local institution. Unpasteurized milk consumed at a dairy farm was the likely source of infection.

Two outbreaks of histamine (scombroid) fish poisoning occurred in the Auckland region in February, involving seven cases. Sick people had eaten kahawai at two separate restaurants. Both outbreaks were linked to the same supplier.

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