At least four drinkers have found small rigid shards of plastic in their beer. Scientists at Guinness spent five years and pounds 5m developing the opaque plastic ring, which releases gas in the beer when a can is opened. This enabled brewers reproduce the traditional head of draught beers for the take-away market, revolutionising the industry. The company launched Draught Guinness in 1989, and it is of the top six best selling cans, grossing more than pounds 45m a year
Bill Spears, public affairs director, confirmed last night that there had been 'a handful' of complaints since last month, but he dismissed suggestions that these complaints might indicate some structural defect.
Last Sunday, Bass issued press advertisements recalling cans of Worthington's Best Bitter following the discovery of plastic by three drinkers. Bass has designed its own widget, and a spokesman said that the plastic had been canned by a faulty machine.
Guinness has taken no similar steps to alert drinkers. Brian Beanland, company secretary, told one customer who sent shards of plastic for analysis that the company had launched an investigation.
'In spite of what people may think, we really do take (this evidence) seriously and the fragments will be, or are being, examined in a laboratory.' Mr Beanland added that the company had no clear idea what was causing the widgets to fracture but that in each case the beer had been flat when opened.
He said that he had decided not to refer the matter to external food safety authorities because the number of reported fractures had been so small. 'We have to put this in the context of the millions of cans of which almost
all of that product has been consumed.'
He said that Guinness had been told by doctors that the plastic shards should not harm adults. 'We are advised that the size of the fragment would cause possible injury to children - but then it is not a product that children should be drinking.'
Among those who have complained to Guinness is a man who has been referred to a hospital specialist following fears that a shard may have lodged in his throat. A woman found plastic fragments in her mouth.
Tim Powlesland, quality inquiry manager at the Park Royal Brewery, north London, told one customer that a general recall had been ruled out because 'product recalls are not 100 per cent, putting notices in the paper, whatever. You don't get to everyone anyway and this product has a relatively short shelf life. . . . There's a lot of fresh stock in the supermarkets these days and the majority will have been opened.'
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