Nearly 13,000 Japanese poisoned after drinking contaminated milk

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The Independent Online

The most serious outbreak of food poisoning in Japan since the Second World War has made almost 13,000 people ill over the past week after drinking contaminated milk .

The most serious outbreak of food poisoning in Japan since the Second World War has made almost 13,000 people ill over the past week after drinking contaminated milk .

Schools in Japan's two major cities, Tokyo and Osaka, were banned from using products supplied by Snow Brand, Japan's biggest dairy company, which has lost one-quarter of its stock market value since the first reports of poisoning eight days ago.

By yesterday afternoon, a total of 12,928 had complained of diarrhoea or vomiting after drinking low-fat or enriched calcium milk processed at the company's Osaka plant. Almost 200 have had to be admitted to hospitalis, suffering from bloody faeces and fever, although none is in a seriouscondition.

The poisoning was caused by a valve connecting a supply pipe with a tank used to recycle leftover milk. So rarely had the valve been washed that a solid block of dried milk, as wide as a 2p coin, had formed inside it, breeding a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus.

Health inspectors failed to detecdt the problem, and workers at the plant reported the equipment was seldom cleaned properly. "We have ignored the regulation for several years now, and have never been instructed to follow it," one of them told the Yomiuri newspaper.

Management at the plant lied about the frequency with which the valve was used, and the company president, Tetsuro Ishikawa, infuriated victims with his unemotional assessment of the effect of the scandal on the company. "Low-fat milk is an unprofitable product for our company, so the incident will have little impact on our profitability," he said.

Mr Ishikawa claimed that he had been unaware that the company had delayed announcing the contamination, a decision that caused more people to be poisoned. He said the first he knew of the delay was when he saw it on a television screen in a train. On Thursday he announced that he and three other executives would resign to "take responsibility" for the poisoning. Police are investigating the company for professional negligence.

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