IT WAS a phone call in the middle of the night that changed Bill’s life. One minute he was slumbering peacefully, dreaming about a Fijian holiday, and the next he was embroiled in a scenario so far-reaching that it almost cost him and his family their livelihood. On the line, from a country thousands of kilometres away, was one of his ingredient suppliers with words that chilled his bones. “We have a problem,” the familiar voice of his representative said. “You’ll need to recall straight away.” Bill* remembers the panic that immediately spread through his body at the thought. As a small food manufacturing company striving to make a mark on the Australasian market, any recall was a blow to the success they’d achieved via hard graft and vision. Would this be the end of his company and the 26 staff members he employed? What would happen now? It was his kids that he thought about as he dialled the number of his floor manager. They were young and fully immersed in a lifestyle that included expensive extra-curricular activities. Despite being divorced, he enjoyed a close bond with his ex-wife and they agreed unanimously about their children’s upbringing. Would 18 MAY 2016 WHEN GOOD FOOD GOES BAD she panic too? And what about his father, who’d worked hard alongside him. Would he be disappointed? After speaking with his second-incharge, Bill didn’t sleep again for three days. “It was, quite frankly, one of the darkest times of my life,” he says, several years down the track. “Everything we’d worked for, everything we’d established and fought for, was threatened in one foul swoop. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was a black hole with no bottom. I can honestly say it nearly broke me.” One of Bill’s Asian-based ingredients suppliers was linked with a disease outbreak. Through no fault of his own, the taint had stained Bill’s products in New Zealand and Australasia. He had no other choice but to recall. “When I think back now,” he says, “it really was a case of ‘there but for the grace of God goes I’. When you’re involved in something like this, you feel very helpless and all the control is taken away, because it really isn’t your fault. You have, to some extent, simply to go with the flow. There’s no way to fight it.” What followed was weeks of product recall from New Zealand and Australian HANDLING FOOD CONTAMINATION CRISES gourmet food outlets and Kiwi restaurants. Bill says the rumours were hard to handle, but his clients stuck by his side, impressed with the measures he was taking. He believes being transparent and frank with those most important to the business assisted in its recovery. Years later, with his business sold to another owner, Bill still flinches when he hears about the numerous product recalls in New Zealand each year. “I think what I learnt from the experience was that whilst Kiwis say they want to know where their food is coming from, they also want to believe that the ingredients are sourced internally and are shocked when they realise a lot of it doesn’t. “There’s no way that most manufacturers based here can be successful without importing ingredients. And that in itself opens us up to food contamination. You can’t be everywhere all the time checking every tiny detail…it’s as simple as that.” FOOD SAFETY affects anyone who eats food. When a person sits down to eat his or her dinner at night, a host of other people have thought about whether that food is going to make them sick – from farmers, scientists and company presidents to government officials F E AT U R E In 2015, 23 foods were recalled in New Zealand, including from the following companies: Beehive, Fruzio, Vitasoy, Phoenix drinks, Bluebird, Boundary Road, Tasman Bay. In 2014, 26 foods recalled including Nice & Natural, Golden Circle, Whittakers, Woolworths, Chesdale, Freedom Farms, Delmaine, Watties, Healtheries, Anchor and Pams. In 2013, 13recalled foods including Speight’s, Sealord, Mainland, Homebrand, Pams and Schweppes.
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