14 December 2021

Sugar recall under investigation

Contaminated sugar keeps appearing on supermarket shelves.

Four recalls of contaminated sugar in just over a month has attracted the attention of our food safety regulator.

New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) is investigating the recent recalls made by the New Zealand Sugar Company – maker of Chelsea sugar and home brand sugar for Foodstuffs and Woolworths supermarkets.

Last week’s recall affects 8000 bags (500g and 1kg) of Woolworths raw sugar available from Countdown.

All the recalls were due to potential low level lead contamination.

“Our experts have assessed the risk to be low, based on the levels of lead detected in the sugar and the potential exposure for consumers,” NZFS deputy director general Vincent Arbuckle said.

Arbuckle said NZFS expects businesses to run recalls smoothly.

“That has clearly not happened here. To that end we have started an investigation to identify any issues with the business’ recall process,” Arbuckle said.

A New Zealand Sugar Company spokesperson said contamination was likely to have occurred in the raw ingredient, rather than as part of the manufacturing process.

Neither the New Zealand Sugar Company nor NZFS could tell us how much sugar had been returned to shops to date.

How to return contaminated sugar

You can check if the raw and brown sugar in your pantry is part of the recall on the MPI website.

You can take it back even if you’ve transferred the sugar into a container and thrown out the packaging.

What are the rules about food recalls?

  • All food businesses must have a recall process in place, and practise it, to ensure product recalls run smoothly.

  • Most food recalls are done voluntarily by businesses.

  • Once a business issues a recall, it needs to advise the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which ensures the recall is carried out correctly.

  • Consumers can report food safety issues by calling MPI (0800 00 83 33).

Member comments

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Barbara L.
21 Dec 2021
Raw Sugar Recall

I was notified by Countdown that they had delivered a bag of contaminated raw sugar. The initial info on the MPI page was that it affected raw sugar and brown sugar. As I have a small teaspoon of raw sugar in my morning coffee I was anxious. I rang the number Chelsea provided. They then referred me to a laboratory where I was told they couldn't tell the level of lead that was involved. They took my name and phone number and email address. Because they said "low levels" but no actual facts I paid for a blood test for myself. It came back as no elevated lead levels detected in test. Reassuring but not the following week as more batches had been delivered to supermarkets. Then last week I received an email from Chelsea with 4 x $10 vouchers to be used for Chelsea products only and expire mid January 2022. Bit of a joke really. I don't buy much sugar and it is mainly raw sugar so it was wasted effort. I felt for all the cafes, restaurants, bakeries, biscuit factories and home cooks who all use raw sugar and how much of it had been used prior to being advised by Chelsea. It definitely needs more investigation as to how it happened and how poorly Chelsea dealt with it.

Paul W
19 Dec 2021
Some sugar seems to always be out of stock

Been trying to get some coffee sugar for months now. Can't get it anywhere. Shelves empty.

Chris & Judy
22 Dec 2021
Found coffee sugar

Was able to find coffee sugar at Moore Wilsons.

19 Dec 2021
Not well handled at all

Countdown notified me once just last week and after several emails to them credited $2.50. I had to throw out all raw and brown sugar from home and the bach. Only one bag had the batch no described but we use large jars in Auckland because of ants so it all had to go. Not well handled!