The company that makes dairy products under "The Collective" brand and its former directors have been fined a total of $483,000 for repeatedly failing to report positive listeria results, following an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Epicurean Dairy Limited – whose products include yoghurt and ‘suckies' marketed to children – and the company's former general manager Angus Allan, pleaded guilty to a total of 10 charges of failing to report positive environmental listeria results when they appeared in the Waitakere District Court today.
The company was fined $369,000, and Angus Allan, $54,000. Court costs of $80,000 were also imposed.
The company's former operations manager, Ilya Pyzhanhov, was convicted and fined $60,000 after pleading guilty earlier this year to 5 charges of deliberately withholding positive environmental listeria results.
The charges follow a complex and long-running investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries whose probe began after investigators were given credible information about the West Auckland company from a confidential informant.
MPI's director of compliance, Gary Orr, says that from 2012 to 2016 the company was wilfully blind and careless in repeatedly failing to report positive listeria results that were taken from a floor at the company's factory in Avondale. During this period the company also falsified official related records.
He says a total of 190 positive listeria results went unreported during this time.
"This was serious, systematic and sustained deception – there's no other way to describe it," says Mr Orr.
"The company was regularly audited to ensure its manufacturing environment was in accordance with regulatory requirements but it lied about what the true situation was.
"The part of the factory that was producing positive environmental listeria results was an area where the most stringent food safety requirements applied. It was where yogurt and cheese was being produced for human consumption.
"It's clear that if the company had reported the positive results, there would've been significant costs associated with remedying the problem, including considering replacing a cracked and unhygienic floor, as well as a halt to production due to the work that needed to be done.
"There is no excuse for this type of blatant and sustained offending. When offending of this nature is detected, we will hold those responsible for it to account."
No product was affected and there were no consumer health impacts. Since the MPI investigation, the company has replaced the worn factory floor where the listeria was present. The company continues to operate with no further issues.