Sunday, January 26, 2014

In Japan, man arrested in frozen food conatamination case; over 2800 ill

In Japan, a man was arrested for contaminating frozen food products with the pesticide malathion. The deliberate contamination resulted in over 2800 becoming ill, many of them children. The company was forced to recall over 6 million units of frozen food including frozen pizza and lasagna. It is suspected that the perpetrator added the contaminate immediately before the packaging process. 9 products are reported as having been contaminated.

It is interesting in that, according the news reports, that the company had restrictions on bringing personal items into the production much so, that one person, according the news reports, was astonished that someone was able to get the chemical out on the floor. He also worked as part of a team when on the production floor - there were 4 people assigned to the crust area including the accused.

Another interesting note is that the President of the company as well as the President of the subsidiary will resign in March due to this incident. Salaries of these and other top officials will be cut for a period of time.

The accused is reported as being a contract worker, although he worked at the same facility for 8 years.

This case shows the amount of damage one person can cause through deliberately contaminating food, especially considering it occurred in what appears to be a facility with decent controls.

Arrest made over tainted frozen food
Japan NewsMonday, January 27, 2014

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A man in his late 40s was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of obstructing business by lacing frozen foods with a pesticide at a major food maker’s subsidiary plant in the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

The man, Toshiki Abe, 49, is a contract employee working at the plant of AQLI Foods Corp., a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc., police said.

Investigators detected malathion on clothes he wore at the plant. He had been missing since Jan. 14, but was discovered in Saitama Prefecture on Friday.
Based on the processing times printed on products at two-hour intervals, police identified dozens of employees involved in the production of nine food items in which the chemical agent was detected.

Investigators also found that malathion dissolves when heated and leaves an unusual odor in tainted products. Based on such clues, police deduced that the pesticide was added not during the heating process, but immediately before the packaging process. They narrowed down a list of investigation targets to several employees before identifying the suspect in question.

A total of 2,843 people have complained of diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms after consuming the frozen foods on Maruha Nichiro’s product recall list as of Friday, according to statistics compiled by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The company started recalling all the foods made at the plant after announcing the detection of malathion on Dec. 29.

As of Tuesday, 86 percent of the products subject to the recall had been recovered, the company said.

Food poisoning case comes to head with 2 execs quitting

January 27, 2014

The Yomiuri Shimbun

After a month since the first report of insecticide being detected in frozen food, the case seems to have neared its end with the arrest of a suspect and the resignation of executives of the related companies.

The presidents of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. and its subsidiary Aqli Foods Corp. will resign to take responsibility for the contamination of some of its frozen food following Saturday’s arrest of an employee in connection with the case.
Toshiki Abe, 49, who worked at Aqli Foods’ plant in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, was arrested on suspicion of obstructing business by lacing frozen foods with the insecticide malathion. He had gone missing after showing up for work Jan. 14.

Maruha Nichiro President Toshio Kushiro and Aqli Foods President Yutaka Tanabe will step down from their posts on March 31. The salaries of Kushiro, Tanabe and six other board members of the group companies will be cut by 20 percent to 50 percent for a period of one to three months. The moves were announced at a press conference held at Maruha Nichiro’s headquarters in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Saturday night.

“Although the case is ongoing, if what is suspected is true, we must express our extreme regret to have allowed a person to be engaged in a malicious criminal act within the group,” Kushiro said.

According to the Gunma prefectural police, Abe was on the plant’s pizza production line and worked on a contract

basis, renewed every March and September. Abe was part of a group of usually four people who work on the crust section in which pizza dough is made and baked.

Some workers at the plant were shocked to hear of the arrest of Abe, an employee who worked there for more than eight years.

“I can’t believe he’s been arrested,” an employee at the plant said.

Although she works in a different processing section from Abe’s, she said she often saw him in the plant’s canteen and smoking room. In such places, Abe would greet others nicely, leaving the impression that he is a friendly person who has a good relationship with his colleagues, she said.

Since earlier this month, workers have been discarding the recalled products following the news that the chemical was detected in some of the frozen food.

But the woman said she had not seen him since then.

“I thought his work schedule had changed,” she said.

She added, “We’re not even allowed to bring our handkerchief or tissues inside the production area, so I have no idea how he brought the chemical inside.”

Suspect’s wife requested search

Abe was found in Satte, Saitama Prefecture, about 40 kilometers from his home in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, at around 8 p.m. on Friday, according to the Gunma and Saitama prefectural police.

He had been listed missing since Jan. 14, when his wife had asked the police to search for him.

After receiving a call from a local resident reporting a suspicious man in a parking lot who later headed north on a bicycle, police officers rushed to the site in Satte. Officers found the man riding a bicycle along National Highway Route 4 in Satte and questioned him.

The Saitama police discovered the man was Abe after inquiring with their Gunma counterparts about him. “I have a headache. I'll go back home to Gunma Prefecture by bicycle,” Abe reportedly told the officers.

After turning him over to his family in Oizumi, the Gunma prefectural police officers asked Abe to accompany them voluntarily to Ota Police Station on Saturday, where Abe was arrested.

The head of criminal investigations for the Gunma prefectural police, Masami Ogura, spoke to reporters at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at police headquarters. He said police did not yet know where Abe had been for the 10 days he was unaccounted for. When asked what may have prompted the suspect to commit the crime and whether he had been having troubles with his company, Ogura merely said, “We will investigate those issues.”

Regarding how the suspect may have laced products at the plant with the toxic pesticide malathion, and whether Abe had the toxic substance on hand, Ogura said repeatedly, “We’re going to refrain from providing explanations” and “We don't know at this time.”

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