Japanese Dairy Giant to Shutter Factory After 13,000 Poisoned

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Nando Times

Japanese dairy giant to shutter factory after 13,000 poisoned

Snow Brand Milk Products Co.

By GARY SCHAEFER, Associated Press

TOKYO (December 22, 2000 1:12 p.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - The country's largest dairy company on Friday announced plans to shut down a factory blamed for producing tainted milk that sickened 13,000 Japanese in Japan's worst-ever case of food poisoning.

The announcement by Tokyo-based Snow Brand Milk Products Co. comes as the company is trying to bring closure to an incident that dealt a heavy blow to its sales and to public trust in Japan's food-processing industry.

"We want to show people a new Snow Brand," President Kohei Nishi said at news conference shortly before the company notified health authorities that it will permanently shutter its milk factory in the city of Osaka effective Jan. 31.

Production lines there had been stilled since the end of June, when people in Osaka and other parts of western Japan began experiencing diarrhea and stomach cramps after drinking Snow Brand low-fat milk.

About 13,000 people suffered ill-effects after drinking the milk, which was tainted with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Hundreds required hospitalization.

A subsequent investigation revealed that Snow Brand had routinely - though secretly - recycled old milk returned from stores to make cheese and other products.

In Osaka, germs were found accumulating in a production-line valve that employees had neglected to clean properly.

Police in that city are now investigating management for possible criminal negligence.

The food-poisoning scare caused many supermarkets to stop carrying Snow Brand products, and other Japanese food companies ordered large recalls of their own after the media reported cases of dead lizards in potato chips and worms in pastries.

Snow Brand will sell its Osaka plant and reassign all 74 full-time workers to other parts of the company, spokesman Hiroshi Kuwata said.

Snow Brand said in September it planned to slash its work force by 20 percent and cut directors' salaries by 30 percent because plummeting sales dragged the company deep into the red.

It is forecasting a net loss of 47.5 billion yen ($442 million) for the fiscal year ending in March.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), December 22, 2000

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