Dairy company fined for falsifying listeria results

A dairy company and two former staff members have been handed down hefty fines for falsifying listeria results over a number of years.

The company, which 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.

The foodborne bacterial illness can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns and people with weakened immune systems

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 on Wednesday

The company was fined $369,000, and Angus Allan, $54,000. 

Court costs of $80,000 were also imposed.

The company makes dairy products under "The Collective" brand
The company makes dairy products under "The Collective" brand Photo credit: The Collective/Facebook

The company's former operations manager Ilya Pyzhanhov was convicted and fined $60,000 after pleading guilty earlier this year to five charges of deliberately withholding positive environmental listeria results.

The charges were laid after an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The probe began after investigators were given credible information about the West Auckland company from a confidential informant.

MPI's Director of Compliance Gary Orr said from 2012 to 2016, the company deliberately and repeatedly failed 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," he said.

 "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, which included replacing a cracked and unhygienic floor, as well as a halt to production due to the work that needed to be done."

He said the former directors who had been convicted and fined were fully aware of and party to the deception involved.

"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. In a statement to Newshub, EDL acknowledged that consumers would be concerned.

"We want to apologise and reassure everyone that food safety is a top priority for us and that no unsafe products are ever sold to the public," it said.

It said it acted immediately after it was informed of the misreporting.

"The factory manager who was responsible for this reporting left the business three years ago. They subsequently pleaded guilty and were convicted on 'mens rea' charges (convicted of intent) and received a $60,000 fine."

A thorough independent investigation had been carried out and significant updates made to the factory and processes. 

"We have been working closely with MPI long before the misreporting instances and since. Together, we have undertaken a frequent testing and auditing programme and have now achieved MPI's highest level rating possible for our quality systems."

It said the charges related to the EDL's operations in New Zealand only and no other markets were affected.