Mice likely responsible for holes found in some baby food products sold in Auckland, Napier Countdowns

Countdown is recalling three brands of baby food sold in pouches after an investigation found mice were the likely cause of holes in the packaging across numerous Countdown supermarkets in the North Island. 

Countdown sign. Source: 1 NEWS

Countdown’s general manager for food safety Kiri Hannifin asked people not to consume the products, whether damaged or not, because of potential contamination by mice.

She said the supermarket was recalling products nationwide from brands Only Organics, Natureland and Countdown-owned Smiling Tums as a precaution. 

The recall affects all dates, all flavours and all batches of these products. All stocks of the products from stores and distribution centres would be removed.

It comes as at least 29 packages were discovered yesterday with damaged packaging. They were found across six supermarkets in Auckland and one in Napier.

“A combination of heavy rain in Auckland and a strong attraction to sweeter or fruit-based baby food flavours has led to the mouse damage in two of Countdown’s Auckland distribution centres,” Ms Hannifin said today.

“Countdown has found evidence of mice activity in some boxes.

“The mouse activity is not related to any of the brands themselves, their production process or transportation.”

She apologised to customers for any unease the situation may have caused. 

“We ask our customers to bring the impacted products back to their local store, or for online customers, please call our customer care team on 0800 40 40 40, for a full refund.”

She said there have been no reports of illness. However, she asked parents to seek medical advice if their babies had eaten the product.

A spokesperson told 1 NEWS the company has a "really strict pest control in place in our [distribution centres] and always have".

"We've had our pest control provider in yesterday and today and they've confirmed that it's not an infestation, more like specific and isolated mouse activity.

"It seems they've taken a liking to the baby food."

She said Countdown was working with the Ministry for Primary Industries "to make sure we're doing everything we can".

"[Countdown] will, of course, take any further advice on what else can be done, but it does seem like a strange mix of the weather and the baby food."

New Zealand Food Safety director of compliance Gary Orr said it looked likely "the damage was caused by these mice infestations".

"However, we continue to work to rule out any other possible issues in the supply chain.

“In the meantime we are working with Woolworths NZ [the owners of Countdown] to ensure corrective actions are taken so that this doesn’t happen again.”

He warned food contamination could be serious for babies, but that his agency had not received any reports of illness relating to the damaged packages.

“Mice must be kept away from food because they can contaminate the food and packaging with harmful microbes from their saliva, urine and droppings," he said.

He said to be on the safe side, parents should routinely check baby food pouches for damage by giving packets a light squeeze.

"We ask that parents check every squeezable baby food pouch in their home to ensure it is not affected by the recall."

None of the affected product was exported, he said.

Police yesterday made “extensive inquiries” to establish the source of the damage and rule out deliberate damage.

The brands in which damaged product has been identified are:

  • Only Organic
  • Natureland
  • Smiling Tums

The stores in which damaged product has been identified are: 

  • Birkenhead Countdown, Auckland – 15 packets
  • Milford Countdown, Auckland – 4 packets
  • Meadowlands Countdown, Auckland – 1 packet
  • Three Kings Countdown, Auckland – 2 packs
  • SuperValue Avondale, Auckland – 6 packs
  • Carlyle Countdown, Napier – 1 packet

However, people are urged not to consume the product, whether damaged or not.