Updated 07 October 2015

Parmalat juice tainted with caustic soda

Parmalat has confirmed to Health24 that a batch of contaminated PureJoy apple juice contained traces of sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as caustic soda.

Parmalat South Africa has recalled all 200ml PureJoy apple juice produced on December 14 and 15 2014 with the best before date of December 14 and 15 2015.

The dairy producer revealed that the juice had been contaminated with cleaning chemicals.

"Our investigation has shown that traces of sodium hydroxide has been found in the product," Parmalat spokesperson André Mahoney told Health24 on Tuesday.

What consumers complained about

Mahoney said two complaints have been received. One of the consumers complained about nausea and stomach ache and a second about a strange taste.

"If people have the above mentioned symptoms after having consumed our product, our advice is to see a health professional."

A highly alkaline substance

Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, director at the Griffon Poison information centre, explained that caustic soda or sodium hydroxide is a highly alkaline, solid white powder.

It is sold generally to the household market in food chain stores and is usually used to open block drains. Sodium hydroxide can be found in items like brick cleaners, cements and hair straighteners, among other products.

Read: Load shedding sparks food poisoning fear

"If ingested in any significant concentration it will affect the mucous membrane in the mouth, the oesophagus and the stomach," Verdoorn told Health24. He said the pH of the stomach, which varies from 1-2 up to 4-5, should help neutralise the chemical, but the mucous membranes in the mouth and the oesophagus is where damage can be caused if the juice contained high levels of caustic soda.

"If you rub your lips with your finger, your skin should come off. You will feel a soapy feeling on your lips and in your mouth. If it is not significant, you will not feel anything and it may not cause any damage."

What the dangers are

Health24 resident doctor Heidi van Deventer explained the dangers of caustic soda when ingested.

"It can burn the oesophagus and stomach, causing blood in the stool and vomit, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain. So the symptoms to look out for are vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and cramps and any signs of blood in the stool or when vomiting."

She said the best way to treat it is to call a poison control centre immediately as well as emergency services.

Read: Top food poisoning culprits

"Give the person water or milk to drink (if they are conscious), but do not induce vomiting if you have not discussed it with the poison control centre or emergency services. Caustic soda could burn the oesophagus even more if vomiting is induced."

Other treatments may include, chest X-ray, endoscopy – the placement of a camera down the throat to see the extent of burns to the oesophagus and stomach, fluids through a vein.

Ramping up measures

Mahoney said the accident was not initially flagged by internal systems because of the low quantity of the contamination. He said that it has been estimated at this time that about 60 litres of product, which amounts to about 300 packs to have been tainted.

"We have subsequently recalibrated our equipment and technology to ensure that we are able to pick up issues that may have influenced this fault.We have ensured that we mitigate fully against this type of incident occurring again".

As a precautionary measure, Parmalat has removed all 200ml UHT PureJoy apple juice products with an expiry date of December 14 and 15 from shelves in the majority of retail and wholesale stores. However, the Western Cape was involved in the distribution for primary sale, which could have been taken by consumers or distributors to other areas.

Being able to recall a product in the sales channel is critical, according to FoodSure, a verification company that also does independent store auditing, product testing and staff training for the manufacturing and retail market.

"A concern we have is the inability to recall all product that has already gone to the retailer," FoodSure managing director Amanda Rogaly told Health24.

Brand damage

She said this accident is a classic example of how operational gaps can not only be hazardous to the public but also seriously damage the brand.

"From what we can see, Parmalat has successfully isolated the incident, but has not advised on how they are going to close the operational gap to give their customers future assurance on this product or any other of their products," Rogaly said.

Mahoney told Health24 the accident happened because of a combination of factors. "This was an unusual incident that occurred because of a change of process, a technological issue and human intervention that lead to an unauthorised process."

Parmalat has already alerted all retailers and distributors and also has a campaign to make consumers aware. It has a nationwide radio advert, it issued notices on Facebook and plans to place notices on shelves in stores.

Consumers who have purchased this batch has been urged to phone 0860 66 44 22 and an email address at

Here are the full product details:

Parmalat 200ml UHT PureJoy Apple Juice is packaged in a green-coloured 200ml UHT carton with straw attached. It is marked as follows:

- Parmalat (brand)
- PureJoy Juice (product)
- Apple (flavour)
- 200ml (pack size)
- Information in Best Before box on top of pack:
P 14.12.14 (production date) and P 15.12.14
E 14.12.15 (expiry date) and E 15.12.15
ZA 5/19 (factory code)

Also read:

Food poisoning facts

Cape poisoning trails food dumping

Prevention of food poisoning


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