Heinz recall is just 'precautionary'

Updated: 2014-08-26 10:09

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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The removal of some HJ Heinz Co baby food brands in China due to what Chinese food safety officials called "excessive amounts of lead" is the second food safety scandal with US links to hit China in the past month.

Though there have been no documented illnesses resulting from the lead scare, Michael Mullen, Heinz's senior vice-president of corporate and government affairs, said the removal of the cereal products is "a precautionary measure".

"Heinz has issued a small regional recall of baby cereal in China after a comprehensive internal investigation revealed that an isolated batch of defatted soy bean powder from a supplier in China demonstrated variable lead content," Mullen wrote in an email to China Daily. "Extensive testing confirmed that no other Heinz baby food varieties are affected."

 Heinz recall is just 'precautionary'

Photo shows Heinz AD calcium high-protein cereal in a supermarket in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province. Aisa News Photo

Heinz, the US-based company that sells a wide variety of food products, including ketchup and baby food, recalled several batches of Heinz AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal in China last week, citing the presence of lead in one of the product's raw ingredients.

Heinz apologized to consumers in a company statement and said it would tighten control over suppliers going forward.

Officials in China's eastern Zhejiang province said food safety regulators are now in the process of investigating more than 300 food vendors in the province to make sure the items in question are properly disposed of.

Zhejiang regulators said in a written statement that the issue affected 1,472 boxes of infant cereal.

In a statement posted on its Chinese website, Heinz said it will continue to work toward improving traceable food safety control systems.

Mullen said the company is "100 percent committed to food quality and safety on behalf of our consumer in China and around the world".

Heinz, a leading global food company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1869. In nearly 150 years, the company has grown into a multinational food-processing conglomerate with facilities on six continents and a market presence in more than 200 countries and territories.

China is one of Heinz's largest growth markets, according to company filings.

Lead, which can enter the body through fumes, dust, contact and ingestion, can have negative health effects on children, causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems, according to the US CDCP. High levels of lead poisoning in the body can lead to seizure, coma and death.

The Heinz baby cereal recall is the just most recent safety food scare rattling consumers in China.

Last month, two staples in the fast food industry, McDonald's Corp and Yum Brands Inc, cut ties with Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd, a Shanghai-based meat supplier, over the sale of expired meat to some of their fast food restaurants in China.

Issues concerning infant-related products strike a particularly sensitive chord with residents in the world's second largest economy.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug 18 that infant products in particular have been "under scrutiny since 2008", when six infants died and more than 300,000 were sickened after dairy producers added the industrial chemical melamine to watered-down milk.

The growing issue in food safety concerns worldwide has become consumer frustration over their inability to actively source and keep track of ingredients and the lack of transparency in the supply chain.

Barcode tracking systems, which are common in the US and Europe but not popular in China, help customers down the line trace particular batches to find out how and why any issues occurred.

David Mahon, a Beijing-based managing director of an investment firm focusing on China's food and beverage sectors, told Reuters in an interview that "standardized traceability of food products does not currently exist in China".