September 6, 2013

Mold forces Chobani to recall yogurt sold in Maine

Stores remove the product from shelves, but not before some of the bad batch is purchased.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The makers of Chobani yogurt instituted a voluntary recall Thursday after customer complaints led to the discovery that some yogurt containers were contaminated with mold, including units sold in Maine stores.

click image to enlarge

Chobani Greek Yogurt is seen at the Chobani plant in South Edmeston, N.Y. Chobani says it's issuing a recall of some of its Greek yogurt cups that were affected by mold. The recall comes after some customers reported claims of illnesses.

2012 file photo/The Associated Press

However, the company did not inform some stores in time to pull all the affected containers before some were sold.

Chobani, the second-best-selling Greek yogurt brand in the U.S., last week began contacting individual retailers about the problem and asked them to remove yogurts stamped with the lot number 16-012 with expiration dates between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7. At the time, the company called the procedure a "voluntary withdrawal," but on Thursday morning changed that to a voluntary recall.

The yogurt was still being sold in some Shaw's stores, including stores in Maine, as late as Wednesday night, even though Chobani began informing stores about affected products last week.

Steven Sylven, a spokesman for the Massachusetts-based Shaw's chain, said Chobani told the company last week that the yogurt it was selling wasn't affected by the mold. But Wednesday night, he said, Chobani said that initial information was wrong and Shaw's had some of the affected products.

Sylven said Shaw's immediately ordered stores to remove the product from shelves. Sylven did not know how many containers of yogurt had been sold before stores yanked them from shelves, or how many were removed.

Hannaford spokesman Mike Norton said Chobani asked them to remove yogurt "flips" -- products that come with the yogurt and fruit or nuts in separate containers -- and 3.5-ounce yogurt "bites" from store shelves. The supermarket chain pulled 9,100 packages in 182 stores from the shelves Friday and Saturday, he said.

Hannaford will throw away the affected yogurt and receive a refund from Chobani. Norton declined to specify the amount of the refund.

Whole Foods in Portland said it was notified about the yogurt last week, but the lot number of the yogurt in its inventory did not match the one the company identified as potentially contaminated with mold.

Customers have said the affected yogurt made the containers swell up and produced an "off" taste that some described as "fizzy" and others said tasted like wine. Some reported the yogurt made them sick.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta did not respond to a call requesting information on whether it had received any reports from people who may have gotten sick from the yogurt.

Late Thursday afternoon, Chobani posted an apology from company founder Hamdi Ulukaya on its website, which was unavailable part of the day -- and ran slowly when it could be accessed.

Factual information on the recall was included in a company blog. Customers had to click through several pages to access it, and the page where the information was posted was topped with a huge picture of a yogurt "cheesecake" treat. Customers would need to scroll further down the page for the brief recall updates.

The company did not respond Thursday to requests for additional information.

Chobani said the mold is "common in the dairy environment," but did not explain how it got into a batch of yogurt and wasn't detected, other than to say the company doesn't use artificial preservatives.

The company also did not say what kind of health problems the mold might cause or how many units of the yogurt were being recalled. Chobani said some customers did say the yogurt made them sick, but did not say how many people were sickened, beyond saying it was not in the hundreds or thousands.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is talking with the company about the recall and whether the company had communicated with the public appropriately, but a spokeswoman would not give details.

Customers are advised to go to chobani.com/care to seek a refund or replacement if they bought yogurt from the affected batch.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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