Parmalat hides bacteria infections

2017-03-26 06:00

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Dairy giant Parmalat had repeated and serious infections with the dangerous bacteria types Salmonella and Listeria, but hid this information from their biggest supermarket clients and later made a single employee the scapegoat instead.

This is what the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) found at the end of 2016, when it ruled that Parmalat had unfairly dismissed Tertius Carstens, quality manager of the Bonnievale plant in the Western Cape, one of the biggest dairy plants in Africa.

While Carstens was eventually fired, the plant manager at Bonnievale, Hansie Wolfaardt, was promoted to head of Parmalat’s Ladismith plant.

“It appears that [Carstens] was singled out to take the blame for all the problems experienced while his managers did not accept any responsibility.

“They tried to cover their tracks by either hiding information or providing misleading information to auditors and their clients, thereby forcing Carstens to do the same.”

According to the CCMA, the top management of Parmalat instructed employees to hide documents from the auditors of its clients.

The commission said the sparks began flying in 2007 when Carstens sent an email to Wolfaardt indicating that he was “no longer willing to comply with instructions from Wolfaardt to send false information concerning monthly reports to [a supplier]”.

Wolfaardt, however, instructed him again to continue. “Carstens also referred to incidents involving smoked cheese, caustic soda in cream and amendments to lab results that Wolfaardt was aware of,” according to the commissioner’s summary of the evidence.

Although this allegation was not disputed in the CCMA hearing, Parmalat’s head of human resources in Africa, Chris Vermeulen, told Rapport in an email that no lab results had been amended.

The relationship between Carstens and Wolfaardt reached a low point when the plant experienced repeat infections of Listeria and Salmonella between March 2014 and December 2014.

According to evidence led, both bacteria make products unsafe for human consumption and can lead to illness and even death in serious cases.

The Salmonella was in the whey plant and Listeria in the plant for hard cheese and processed cheese. At one point, they had to stop producing cheese for an entire weekend as a result of the hygiene problem, the CCMA heard.

Carstens repeatedly informed management of the problems and requested that experts be called in to help, but these requests were ignored.

According to Vermeulen, all safety measures that were in place were successful in ensuring that no contaminated products reached the market.

There was no risk to consumers and no need to impart this information, said Vermeulen.

- Rapport

Read more on:    health

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