P'nP removes all Maggi noodles

2003-07-11 20:08

Johannesburg - Pick 'n Pay has withdrawn sales of all flavours of Maggi two-minute noodles nationally, the supermarket chain said on Friday evening.

In a statement released just before 19:00 the supermarket chain said forensic tests had revealed the presence of potassium cyanide in two packets of the noodles.

Chief executive Sean Summers said the results of tests on the first packet of two-minute noodles, received on Thursday, "necessitated" Friday morning's withdrawal of two flavours of the noodles - cheese and chicken. Pick 'n Pay was withdrawing all flavours now that tests on the second packet also showed traces of the deadly poison.

So far the amounts of cyanide used had been too low to cause lasting damage.

Police continue to search for the person - or people - who have threatened Pick 'n Pay with the poisonings over the past eight weeks.

Four products have been withdrawn from its shelves because of low-level cyanide poisoning.

A nine-year-old girl whose parents bought a strip of four barbeque-flavoured Fritos chips and, at the same time, two two-minute noodle packets, one cheese and one chicken, had been made ill by the poison. The two products were bought at Pick 'n Pay's Kensington branch in eastern Johannesburg.

The girl continued to be treated at home.

The child's blood had been tested and had reconfirmed traces of cyanide.

Summers said the three people who were directly affected by the activities of "this consumer terrorist" had been exposed to very low levels of cyanide poisoning.

The blood-cyanide levels of the two others - adults who ate poisoned products earlier than the girl - were now "normal".

A R5m reward has been offered for information leading to a conviction and on Friday national police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Selby Bokaba said police would follow up all information reported to them, no matter how silly or ludicrous it appeared.

He was reacting to a report that two Bloemfontein women might have spotted the extortionist. This was reported in the city's Volksblad newspaper.

Bokaba called on the women to report the matter to the police.

According to the Volksblad a Bloemfontein housewife overheard a suspicious cellphone conversation by a man sitting behind her at Cape Town International Airport.

A teacher sitting opposite them in the departure lounge on Sunday afternoon, also from Bloemfontein, confirmed that the "Oriental-looking" man acted very suspiciously.

"He first read the headlines of an English newspaper and was very excited when he phoned someone on his cellphone," the housewife told the paper.

"How's it there in Durban? Tell (name inaudible) it works!" she allegedly overheard the man saying.

"Tell him to buy the English Sunday papers. It's now nationwide and they even offer a reward," the cellphone conversation reportedly went.

Volksblad reported that Bokaba burst out laughing when he was told about the women's observations, saying the extortionist was much more clever than that.

The other products which have been withdrawn were Pick 'n Pay No Name Brand Sardines 120g, Pick 'n Pay Choice Garlic Flakes 100ml bottle, Lucky Star Pilchards in Chilli 155g, and Simba 25g Fritos Barbeque Strip Pack 4s.

Anyone with information that can lead to the arrest and conviction of the extortionist can phone the Pick 'n Pay reward line on 011-455-3843.

Pick 'n Pay went public with the news of the extortion attempt almost two weeks ago, after seven weeks of threats. This was after a woman on the West Rand ate a "strange-tasting" sardine and phoned the supermarket's helpline when she saw that the tin the fish came in was marked, in handwriting, as poisoned.

On Friday last week the extortionist's activities were shown to have stretched to KwaZulu-Natal. A poisoned fish was eaten, but the victim was also more shaken than harmed.

"We can reasonably assume, from the reported cases, that the activities of the extortionist have been confined to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and that withdrawal of the products in the balance of the country are purely as an extra precautionary measure," Summers said in Friday's statement.

Customers were asked to return all of the threatened products.