Salmonella has shut down the milk powder production unit at a dairy.
The contamination did not come from the supply of milk from a farm and did not enter the food chain.
The Department of Agriculture has confirmed to ‘Farm Ireland’, the Irish Independent’s farming website, that it was notified of “a positive result for the presence of Salmonella in a powdered milk product sample” at Tipperary Co-op.
The shutdown has not affected the milk, butter and cheese production at the plant. The milk powder is processed in a separate part of the dairy.
Milk collection has continued as normal for the co-op. Neighbouring processors are understood to be processing powder on behalf of Tipperary Co-op.
The co-op, based in Tipperary Town, shut down its milk powder production unit after it detected the strain of Salmonella in a consignment of milk powder in September.
Salmonella is a common bacteria that lives in the intestines of animals and humans and can cause food poisoning through contaminated food or drink.
The department says it is working closely with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the co-op to “ensure that all appropriate action is being taken to safeguard consumers and to ensure the on-going integrity of the Irish dairy food chain”.
It is understood about 100 tonnes of the milk powder was affected and it notified the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority in late September when the incident occurred.
Milk powder is used in the production of infant formula and sports protein drinks.
The co-op manufactures a range of milk powders and it expects powder production to resume in the coming weeks.
The Department of Agriculture confirmed the case in response to questions from ‘Farm Ireland’ and the Irish Independent.
“In accordance with EU regulations governing Food Law, food processing plants, ingredients and the final products are subject to sampling and analysis for microbiological contamination by both the (food business operator) FBO and the authorities, including the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine.
“As a result of routine testing carried out by the FBO, the Department was notified of a positive result for the presence of Salmonella in a powdered milk product sample, received by the FBO.
“The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine is working closely with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Business Operator to ensure that all appropriate action is being taken to safeguard consumers and to ensure the on-going integrity of the Irish dairy food chain,” it said.
A spokesperson for the co-op said its “quality assurance system had detected and isolated a pathogenic bacterium, and the co-op had stopped powder production on site”.
The spokesperson said the product had been isolated and a small number of companies Tipperary Co-op supplies with milk powder were notified. The co-op has been fulfilling contracts through third parties.
It is understood the issue originated on site in a milk dryer and did not emerge through the co-op’s milk supply.
However, Tipperary Co-op would not confirm the end companies or destinations for its milk powders. However, it did say it was not destined for use in infant formula.
It is also understood a root cause analysis has been taking place at the co-op’s manufacturing site since the discovery.
“Tipperary Co-op’s internal quality assurance system recently identified and isolated a pathogenic bacterium in a specific consignment of powder product produced by the co-op, preventing it from entering the food chain,” a spokesperson said.
“The co-op immediately ceased powder production and notified the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Food Safety Authority in accordance with standard incident management protocols.”
Tipperary Co-op processed 280,000 litres of milk in 2017 and 40pc of its production centres around milk powder, with 70pc of its finished products being exported.
Ireland is the 10th largest dairy export nation in the world, with milk powders a significant element of exports. Some 85pc of dairy output is exported, worth over €3bn annually to the sector, with a number of processors investing heavily in milk powder production facilities in recent years.
Irish dairy production has increased significantly in recent years with the abolition of milk quotas, with 18,000 dairy farmers now producing over 7.2bn litres of milk in 2017.
Both the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland were contacted in relation to the Tipperary Co-op shutdown but did not respond.
Dairy Industry Ireland director Conor Mulvihill, who represents diary processors, said: “We are satisfied that the incident has been handled very well by Tipperary Co-op in line with all relevant procedural and food safety protocols.
“The issue was tightly managed with impacted product fully isolated and prevented from entering the food supply chain.”
The development comes as a major trade mission is taking place to Indonesia and Malaysia this week, focussed on expanding the country’s dairy and meat exports.
Indonesia is only 40pc self-sufficient in dairy, while Malaysia is only 5pc self-sufficient.
Bord Bia says the two countries offer significant trade opportunities for Ireland.
Both Indonesia and Malaysia have been identified as offering potential for growth, as the growing wealth and middle class status of both nations suggest that Ireland can increase its exports.