Too many turnips and swedes fed to cows in Hawke’s Bay is behind Fonterra’s funny-tasting milk.
After refusing interviews through out the day, the dairy giant issued at statement late on Friday saying it had “conducted a thorough investigation, which clearly points to the unusual tasting blue top Anchor milk in the lower [North Island] being due to a feed related matter”.
Brassicas – a vegetable plant family that includes turnips and swedes – are fed to cows at this time of year, Fonterra said, and when they eat too much, it can affect the taste of their milk.
Fonterra said the reason the taint was not picked up during routine testing of milk as it’s collected from farms, is that it builds up over time.
“It’s important to note that while brassica may impact the taste of the milk there is no risk to product safety or consumer health,” Fonterra said.
Fonterra has lauded its traceability system that it says means it can identify milk production from a specific cow, through manufacturing to distribution to shops and schools.
But it did not provide any information on how widespread the taint was, in the late afternoon statement.
Fonterra Brands managing director Leon Clement fronted up via telephone on Friday evening, saying the milk had been traced to a small group of farms in the Hawkes Bay region.
He said the taint made it taste bitter or sour.
The milk was processed through Fonterra’s Palmerston North plant and no issues had been found with the factory, Clement said.
He confirmed that Fonterra’s Anchor Milk for Schools product was not involved and that none of the tainted milk was included in any of Fonterra export products.
Earlier, Fonterra and supermarket co-operative Foodstuffs issued what they call a “voluntary withdrawal” of some Anchor branded products in the lower North Island, saying there had been taste complaints.
Both stressed there was no safety issue, which is why they call it a withdrawal rather than a product recall, but they were unable to back this during the day up by providing information on how the milk was affected.
Shops in the lower North Island have been removing the products from shelves.
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A Facebook post from New World Stokes Valley has been removed by Foodstuffs as head office said it contained incorrect information by asking people to return the products for a refund. They repeated it was a voluntary withdrawal, not a recall.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has also failed to answer questions and the issue is not listed on its food products website.
Anchor and Value milk has been removed from New World and Pak’n Save in the lower North Island. Dark blue products from the two brands with best before dates ranging from June 21 to June 27 have been affected.
Products being recalled are Anchor Blue Top 1 litre and 2L and Value Standard 1L, 2L and 3L.
Clement had earlier told NZ Newswire in a statement that a number of customers in the lower North Island have contacted them about the taste of their Anchor milk.
He said the milk is safe, but there is a “quality issue limited to a few batches” with best before dates in the June 21 to 27 date range.
“We’ve removed the dark blue top milk we know to be affected from our supply chain and we’re working hard to get replacement stock back on the shelves,” Clement said.
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said Fonterra’s lack of communication reflected poorly on the company.
“They could be clearer about which areas are affected and the reason behind the issue, the more knowledge consumers have the better. But they’re just hiding behind their media statement,” Chetwin said.
Dairies in Napier and Masterton knew about the recall and had the milk removed from their fridges, but a number of dairies in Porirua and Paraparaumu were unaware on Friday morning.
One Porirua dairy owner, who did not want to be identified, said a customer had complained to her about the milk being available for sale.
“[Fonterra] should let me know so I can explain to people.”
Wellington Anchor distributor Grant Wilson said he was made aware of the withdrawal on Thursday halfway through deliveries.
Deliveries were stopped as soon as they found out, but those dairies that had already received the milk on Thursday were supposed to have it withdrawn on Friday by drivers.
He was unsure why not all dairy owners had been informed by delivery drivers.
A Countdown customer also complained about the light blue Anchor milk on the Anchor’s Facebook page, on Monday.
Countdown spokesman James Walker said Fonterra told them there were “no concerns about food safety of the milk” and that it was a quality issue as some customers had already complained about a funny taste.
Walker said Fonterra has directed Countdown to remove Anchor blue top milk with best before dates from June 22-27 from lower North Island stores only. He said customers would receive refunds of purchases.
A spokesperson from Meadow Fresh owner Goodman Fielder said it had not received any complaints.
A number of schools in the region that were part of Fonterra’s milk in schools programme had not received any complaints from students. The milk delivered through this programme is ultra high temperature processed milk and different from the affected range.
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