Thursday 27 July 2017

Tayto firm fined for contamination of gluten-free crisps after young boy suffered reaction

Inset: Largo CEO Maurice Hickey told the court the company 'apologise unreservedly'
Inset: Largo CEO Maurice Hickey told the court the company 'apologise unreservedly'
Largo CEO Maurice Hickey
Angela Blaney Technical Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.
John Hennessy Operations Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.

Elaine Keogh

THE company that makes Tayto crisps has told a district court judge that a sensor malfunction was responsible for a gluten-free crisp line becoming contaminated with gluten.

Largo Foods apologised unreservedly in court to the mother of a now 11-year-old boy who has coeliac’s disease and who suffered a reaction after eating contaminated crisps.

His mother, who cannot be identified by order of the court, told Judge Grainne Malone: “The first reaction he always gets is a red ear. It is the first signal that he has ingested gluten.”

She said he showed her the packet of crisps but “there was a different product in the packet”.

Largo CEO Maurice Hickey
Largo CEO Maurice Hickey

She said her son went on to suffer abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The woman told Judge Malone he has no health problems when he adheres to a gluten-free diet and that at home “he cannot use the same butter, the same toaster, you check the labels on things”.

Angela Blaney Technical Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.
Angela Blaney Technical Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.

An earlier hearing at Navan District Court was told that the woman bought a packet of O’Donnell’s gluten-free mature Irish cheese and onion crisps last year.

After her son’s adverse reaction, she complained to the company and the HSE subsequently brought the case against Largo Foods.

John Hennessy Operations Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.
John Hennessy Operations Director at Food Manufacturer Largo leaving Navan District Court.

Jacqueline Maloney, for the HSE, told the court there is a spectrum of severity and that for some people a small amount of gluten can have a huge effect.

The symptoms affect the gut, the skin and the respiratory system. In severe cases, anaphylactic shock can occur.

Maurice Hickey, chief executive of Largo Foods, which is based at Kilbrew, Ashbourne, Co Meath, told the court: “On behalf of Largo Foods, I apologise unreservedly.”

He told the court that after the incident the company initiated a product recall. It also engaged with the HSE and “a remedial action plan was put in place”.

The company invested €100,000 and now the gluten- free products “are completely and utterly segmented from the rest of the plant.”

It pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity to a single summons alleging a breach of the EU food regulations at Kilbrew on May 4 last year.

Andrew Whelan, for Largo Foods, said what happened was due to “a malfunction of a sensor” that caused one line to contaminate another.

Within a week, 1,100 retail outlets had been contacted about the contamination and by November last year the company had complied with the HSE improvement notice.

The company will make a €5,000 donation to the Irish Coeliac Society, the court was told.

Judge Malone suggested that €1,000 of that be given to the boy’s mother on his behalf.

She took into account the company’s early plea and the lack of previous convictions and the donation, and fined it €2,000 plus costs.

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