Frozen food recall in Japan expands to criminal investigation

News & Views - January 7th, 2014

Check those frozen food labels, as an estimated 6.3 million Alqi Food Co. pizzas, lasagna, croquettes, and other frozen foods were recalled last week around Japan.

Parent company, Maruha Nichiro Inc, is the second largest producer of frozen food in Japan, and their products were pulled from the shelves on December 29th, 2013 after calls were made with complaints of petroleum oil odors in the food, as well a report of vomiting from a man who ate a pack of 8 corn cream croquettes, or torori kon kurimu korokke.

Traces of the agricultural chemical Malathion, commonly used as pesticides, were detected in samples of seven different types of products during the inspection.  Controversy followed the recall as it took several hours for the company to alert consumers of the recall. Alqi Foods issued a statement of apology for their lack of urgency to publicly announce, but controversy did not end there.

Police are investigating the case as Malathion is not used in any form at the Gunma factory where the Alqi Foods are produced, thus factoring out the notion that the chemical was accidentally infused in during the regular production process. The amount of pesticides found were also too high to be classified as leftover residue.

Malathioin by itself is not highly toxic; however, when ingested into the human body, it can cause nausea or vomiting, muscle tremors, a slowed heart rate, headache, abdominal pain and diarrhea, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

Over 335,000 inquries about the product have been made since the recall, as the Maruha Nichiro Inc team and Gunma Police closely examine the source of the contamination. Production and shipments have been suspended until the cause has been determined. About 300 employees at the factory in Gunma prefecture run by Aqli Foods Corp, a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro, were questioned in the investigation about high levels of a pesticide found in the frozen food.

Gunma officials announced on Tuesday morning that the pesticide level was 2.6 million times higher than the acceptable level, according to The Japan Times. NHK also reports that nearly 900 people have fell sick after eating the contaminated products.

Main Image: SOVA5/Flickr