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Fonterra, the world's fourth largest dairy company, is recalling formula exported to China after some of its dairy products contained a strain of a bacteria which can cause botulism, the company announced Saturday.
The New Zealand-based company said its whey protein concentrate was found to be contaminated with Clostridium Botulinum, and believe the ingredient may have been used in the production of infant formula, sports drinks, and other products. Fonterra said they believe unsterilized pipes are the most likely culprit for the contamination.
Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Even tiny amounts of this toxin can lead to severe poisoning.
The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries said that in addition to New Zealand, six countries were affected: Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam.
"We are acting quickly," the company's chief executive, Theo Spierings, said in a statement. "Our focus is to get information out about potentially affected product as fast as possible so that it can be taken off supermarket shelves and, where it has already been purchased, can be returned."
The announcement comes as Fonterra is planning to launch its own branded milk formula in China, aiming to sell a quarter-billion gallons of milk in the country by 2018, company officials told Chinese state news media in April. Fonterra was previously involved in a 2008 scandal in which melamine-tainted infant formula killed at least six and made thousands ill, leaving Chinese parents on edge when it comes to which formula brand to buy and many are prepared to pay top dollar for international brands.