Japan’s frozen foods were poisoned by a contract worker, who has since been arrested in a prefecture neighboring his home of Gunma. The Aqli Foods Corporation, which is a part of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc., was deeply sorry for the acts of their employee, Toshiki Abe, and both the heads of Aqli and Maruha resigned their board positions over the poisoned food scandal.
The poisonings began in November, and were not recognized as a pattern until December 29th, when the poisoned food was recalled by the company. The first complaint in November stated that the pizza dough in their frozen mixed pizza smelled like engine oil. Since then, more than 2,834 people experienced illness after eating frozen products such as pizza, chicken nuggets and corn croquettes. The symptoms of these illnesses included vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.
Abe, a contracted worker who had to reapply for his position every six months, was arrested on January 24, after being sighted as a suspicious person on a bicycle in Saitama Prefecture, which is not far from Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture. Abe’s wife had called the police to report her husband missing on January 14.
Japan’s frozen food was poisoned by Abe as he worked on production lines. Abe was on the frozen dough line and he made dough by hand. He also had access to other production lines in the factory and that may explain why other products were tainted.
Abe’s fellow employees said they were very surprised at his arrest, since he was always such a friendly coworker. Although he kept to himself mostly, Abe had a smile for his coworkers at the plant and did not appear to be under stress. He did complain to a neighbor that he was having troubles because he was not paid as much as non-contract workers, and did not receive any benefits with his pay.
A motive has not been established, however, there is some thought that Abe might have been wanting the factory to be shut down after a recall. Abe’s statement that he had money troubles points to this being a reason for his actions.
Maruha Nichiro President Toshio Kushiro and Aqli Foods President Yutaka Tanabe have submitted their resignations to Nichiro Holdings. They will be stepping down in March. Six other board members will have their salaries cut for three months as a punishment for allowing their employee to perform such heinous acts.
In the poisoned food recall, more than six million packages of frozen food were recalled. At grocery stores, the company posted apology letters to their customers. Aqli Foods also took out full-page newspaper ads with their deep remorse at harming the public.
A chemical called malathion had been introduced into the products before packaging. Abe has been arrested for poisoning the food packages. He was present at the factory for all of the days that the frozen foods were poisoned. Malathion is a chemical used as a pesticide and for head lice removal.
Many workers did not see how Abe had brought in the malathion, since even personal items like tissues are not allowed to be brought on the floor. The police will be investigating this aspect of the case.
Japan’s food regulation is very important to the company. Such a scandal of having Japan’s frozen food poisoned is met with extreme disgrace, and will probably hurt Maruha Nichiro Holdings for some time to come.
By Lisa M Pickering