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The BBC's Charles Scanlon reports
"Japan has been in the grip of a food scare"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 06:58 GMT 07:58 UK
Japanese dairy firm raided
Japanese police have raided the headquarters of the country's largest dairy-products manufacturer, following the nation's worst outbreak of food poisoning for 30 years.

A police spokesman said searches were carried out at offices of the Snow Brand company in Tokyo and in the western city of Osaka.

Dairy products
Morinaga also halted production over illness linked to its products
Two months ago more than 14,000 people were affected by contaminated milk from a dairy in Osaka, belonging to the company; about 160 people needed hospital treatment.

The contaminated milk was found to contain bacteria which caused diarrhoea and nausea.

Officials said the outbreak may have been caused by bacteria toxins found in powdered milk produced elsewhere by the company, but used at the factory in Osaka to make milk products.

Criminal charges

The outbreak was first linked to incorrect procedures at the Osaka plant in western Japan but the problem was later traced to powdered skimmed milk to a plant on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Investigators on Wednesday searched the Tokyo and Osaka offices of the company on suspicion of negligence and failing to follow necessary sanitary procedures at its plants.

Consumer confidence

If found negligent, company officials could face criminal charges. The firm's president, Tetsuro Ishikawa, and a number of other senior officials have already resigned.

Consumers' faith in Snow Brand Milk was shaken by the incident and many supermarkets are refusing to stock its products.

Critics say Snow Brand reacted sluggishly to the crisis.

The public's confidence in the country's food industry as a whole has been seriously dented after a series of other recent outbreaks of food poisoning.

The number of products recalled from the shops has reached record proportions, with angry consumers reporting everything from dead flies in tomato juice to a lizard in a bag of potato chips.

In July, Morinaga Milk, the country's third-largest milk producer, halted production after 20 schoolchildren fell sick.

The authorities have promised tough action to restore public confidence.

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See also:

01 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Food poisoning outbreak in Japan
06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan dairy chief quits
13 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan milk scare spreads
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