A contract worker disgruntled over his pay at a frozen food plant in Gunma Prefecture was arrested Jan. 25 on suspicion of mixing pesticide into products that sickened more than 2,000 consumers.
Toshiki Abe, 49, is accused of fraudulent obstruction of business operations.
He has denied the allegations against him, Gunma prefectural police said. But he has not explained why he was missing for 10 days before his arrest, reports Asahi Shimbun.
Abe mixed the pesticide malathion into four kinds of frozen food including mixed pizza, chicken nuggets, gratin and corn croquette at Gunma factory between October 3rd and 7th, 2013 because of low salary paid. Abe started working at the frozen food plant in Gunma in 2005, but after ended his work shift on January 14th, 2014, he had been missing.
Eventually, he was found on January 24th in a parking lot in Satte, Saitama Prefecture.
Accordingly, on next day, January 25th Maruha Nichiro President Toshio Kushiro announced that he will resign at the end of March to take responsibility for the incident, and also his pay will be halved between January and March.
On December 29th, Japanese major food maker Maruha Nichiro Holdings announced that they detected high levels of
malathion, a pesticide used in farm work, in four kinds of their frozen products.These products include frozen pizzas, chicken nugget, cone cream croquettes, and teriyaki chicken mayonnaise manufactured at a factory in Gunma Prefecture.
Accordingly, the company began recalling 6.4 million packages of frozen food items on that day, but not before public broadcaster NHK reported that 1,700 people had been sickened after eating the Maruha products after 356 people of those affected informed by local governments.
According to a the NHK report, the products may have been tainted with pesticide 2.6 million times the permitted levels were found in the frozen croquettes made at the factory.
“We test products several times a day for evidence of spoilage, based on the law, but we had no reason to believe pesticides would be present, so we didn’t test for that,” Ichiro Gohara, a spokesman for the company, told Bloomberg yesterday. “Until now, we haven’t received any reports of problems.”
Police are now investigating the workers at the plant for evidence of contamination at the facility, but the damage has already been done. There may also be some evidence of foul play being involved with this incident, according to The Japan Times.
Maruha Nichiro Holdings apologized and warned consumers not to eat any frozen food manufactured at the company’s Gunma factory. As of January 6th, the company has reported that only 1.1 million packages of their products have returned for inspection.
The company also makes a variety of pet products, so pet owners in Japan beware.