By Duncan Mlanjira
Competition Commission (CCC) under the wing of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), has issued warning to its member states against consuming Liqui Fruit Red Grape products from South Africa that allegedly to contain small shards of glass.
Liqui Fruit products, that includes Ceres Juice, are common in Malawi especially through the South African retailers and other outlets connected to the Rainbow country.
The decision by the South African company, Pioneer Foods to recall about 270,000 cans of its Liqui Fruit grape juice, follows reports of three consumers finding small pieces of glass in their Liqui Fruit Red Grape 330ml cans.
But a statement from the manufacturer later said the contamination was rather a harmless cream of tartar crystals.
Earlier, Pioneer Foods had issued a statement that following the company carried out investigation as to the root cause and extent of the issue is underway.
“As a precautionary measure we are recalling the specific manufacturing batches of Liqui Fruit Red Grape 330ml cans from the market.
“The majority of this stock is still in warehouses and has not yet been purchased by consumers, however, as concern for the welfare of our consumers is paramount, we are taking all possible steps to recover this stock quickly.”
Later the company issued another notice, saying the “small glass shards” in their cans was just harmless cream of tartar crystals.
According to www.foodfocus.co.za, two-thirds of the batch of grape juice cans in question was still in the food manufacturer’s warehouses or distribution centres when the recall was actioned and the rest were being pulled off supermarket shelves as a precaution.
This is while a private lab in Stellenbosch, South Africa is running tests to confirm what the glass-like ‘foreign objects’ were.
There have been no reports of any consumers being harmed by the particles, Pioneer Foods is quoted as saying.
“In newspaper adverts placed on Thursday, the company said the particles had been independently found to be “potassium bitartrate crystals”, a naturally occurring substance in products made from grapes, such as grape juice and wine,” says www.foodfocus.co.za.
“Crystallisation occurs under certain conditions, such as low temperature,” the adverts are quoted as saying. “In this case it occurred after processing and canning.”
“Potassium bitartrate is more commonly known as cream of tartar when used as a cooking aid.”
Pioneer Foods CEO Tertius Carstens told www.foodfocus.co.za that because the crystals looked exactly like glass, the company was not prepared to put its customers at risk while waiting for the results of laboratory analysis of a sample provided by one of the complainants.
“We made the right call,” he is quoted as saying. “And we are continuing with the recall, because while it’s a natural substance and it’s not toxic, those crystals should not be there.”
Cartens said this was the first time crystallisation had occurred in Liqui Fruit grape juice, which is produced at Pioneer’s beverage plant in Ceres.
“Consumers are still advised not to consume or dispose of the product, but to return it to the retailer where it was purchased, for a full refund,” the advert reads.
“Pioneer Foods apologises for any anxiety and concern caused while we awaited the outcome of detailed analysis of the crystals.”
Prof Gunnar Sigge, head of Stellenbosh University’s Food Science department, said the use of potassium bitartrate or tartaric acid in foods within the recommended levels posed no health risk to humans.
“The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius General Standard for Food Additives, which SA legislation follows, lists a maximum usage level in juice of 4,000mg/kg,” he said.