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Bad Milk Sickens 6,000 in Japan

July 1, 2000

TOKYO (AP) _ Bacteria accumulating in a production-line valve may have contaminated the lowfat milk that sickened about 6,000 people in western Japan, the company said Saturday.

People living around the city of Osaka began suffering diarrhea and stomach cramps two days ago, after drinking lowfat milk from Snow Brand Milk Products Co., the country’s largest supplier of dairy.

By Saturday afternoon, 5,890 people had gotten sick from the milk, and 98 of them required hospitalization, said Kohei Suda, an Osaka municipal health official. Forty-four remained in the hospital, he said.

Snow Brand officials inspecting the Osaka factory where the product originated discovered staphylococcus aureus bacteria inside a valve that carried the milk, company spokesman Makoto Wakita said.

Staphylococcus, or staph, is a common bacterium that can cause diarrhea and vomiting in people with a weakened immune system.

Though signs of the bacteria have not yet been detected in the contaminated milk, the contaminated valve ``will probably turn out to be the source of the contamination,″ Wakita said.

Snow Brand President Tetsuro Ishikawa said the valve may not have been cleaned regularly, Japanese news media reported.

``I would have to say it was an oversight on our part,″ Kyodo News agency quoted him as saying.

Wakita said he did not know about sanitary conditions on the production line.

Snow Brand stopped production Friday and began recalling milk from stores.

Health Ministry officials found no clues to the contamination during an inspection of the factory earlier Saturday, ministry official Hiroshi Takimoto said.

Japan has seen large-scale cases of intentional food poisoning in the past, including one in which curry prepared for a community festival in 1997 was laced with arsenic. Four people died and 60 were sickened.

Health officials have found no evidence of poisoning in this case.

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On the Net:

Snow Brand Milk Products Co.: http://www.gcis.com/japan/ar/aj2262e.htm