Business Scoop

UPDATE: First Food Act fine imposed on Hellers

Article – BusinessDesk

(Updates with comment from Hellers from 10th paragraph. Confirms OIO approval still pending to end.)UPDATE: First Food Act fine imposed on Hellers for mis-labelling sausages

(Updates with comment from Hellers from 10th paragraph. Confirms OIO approval still pending to end.)

By Jenny Ruth

Jan. 30 (BusinessDesk) – Bacon and sausage manufacturer Hellers has been fined $39,375 and ordered to pay $5,000 to each of three children who suffered allergic reactions after eating mis-labelled sausages.

The fine is the first since tougher penalties were introduced in the Food Act 2014.

The children became sick in September 2017 after staff at Hellers’ Wiri factory failed to follow proper procedures and Cheese Sizzlers were packaged as Original Sizzlers and therefore didn’t have cheese listed as an ingredient.

The children affected were allergic to dairy products – one had a moderate reaction, one a moderate-to-severe reaction and the third had to be hospitalised with a severe anaphylactic reaction.

Following these reactions, Hellers initiated a product recall.

The Ministry for Primary Industry’s food compliance manager Melinda Sando says the incident could have been prevented if Hellers’ staff had cross-checked labels and the product itself before packaging.

“The company had a duty to ensure its products were safe and suitable. Proper labelling of allergens is a key requirement in discharging this duty and consumers should be able to rely on food labelling when making their purchasing decisions. This is especially so for those with food allergies,” Sando says.

The fine and reparations were ordered by Manukau District Court Judge John Bergseng.

Since the incident, Hellers has put in place additional staff training and procedures to prevent the problem from recurring, MPI says.

“We accept it happened, we’re disappointed and we’ve taken steps. We take food safety very seriously,” chief executive John McWhirter says.

His company spends about $4 million a year on food safety and would spend more if that was necessary, he says.

“I take it personally as a failure and my CFO takes it as a personal failure,” he said. “Part of that is because of the nature of the business we’re in. There are a lot of risks around processed meats and how they’re controlled.”

The incident involved about 400 packs of sausages and was caused when a staff member entered an incorrect code into the packing machinery. That process is now automated with the code entered through scanning a bar code, McWhirter says.

Hellers had invited the affected children and their families to tour Hellers’ factory and to see for themselves what the company had done to ensure there were no further such incidents. Two of the families had accepted that invitation, he says.

Allergy New Zealand chief executive Mark Dixon says food businesses need to take food allergen management seriously.

“The recent tragic death of Auckland teenager Edyn Rubena-Misilisi shows how dangerous accidental food allergic reactions can be. Food allergy is not a lifestyle choice, it is a challenging condition which needs to be managed all day, every day for many thousands of people,” Dixon says. Rubena-Misilisi died in November from an allergic reaction to nuts.

In September last year, investment company Rangatira Holdings sold its majority stake in Hellers to Australia-based private equity company Adamantem Capital for a reported $200 million.The deal was subject to Overseas Investment Office approval which is still pending.


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