Italy blames bacteria for making mozzarella blue; German maker insists cheese now OK

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Italy: bacteria made mozzarella blue

ROME — Batches of Mozzarella balls turned blue because of bacterial contamination during production in Germany, Italian prosecutors and health officials said Tuesday, after more than a ton of the suspect cheese was seized.

But the German maker was insisting that the problem was resolved a month ago.

Last week, Italian paramilitary police specializing in food contamination seized 70,000 balls of mozzarella in Turin after consumers complained the milky-white cheese turned blue after the package was opened. Cheese was also seized in Trento, in northern Italy. This week more suspect cheese was found in Sardinia and in Abruzzo near the Adriatic, authorities said.

The Turin prosecutor looking into the mozzarella mystery said testing had found bacterial contamination, but it wasn’t clear yet how the contamination occurred.

“Surely it happened in the production phase,” but investigators will not say more until they discover how the bacteria contaminated the mozzarella, prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told The Associated Press by telephone. He declined to say which bacteria had been found.

Mozzarella suspected of being contaminated has been found in Bologna, in Sardinia, including in Sassari and on the tiny Sardinian island of Isola della Maddalena, and in Bologna, Guariniello said.

In Teramo, a town in Abruzzo where blue mozzarella was found, health officials said results to identify the bacteria would be ready in about 48 hours.

The health ministry in Rome said it has received no complaints of illness linked to the blue mozzarella.

So far more than a ton of mozzarella produced by the German maker Milchwerke Jaeger Gmbh in Germany under five brand names has been seized, the ministry said.

A director of food health services in Teramo said the bacteria didn’t appear to have toxic effects.

“Those who ate the mozzarella didn’t get any type of illness,” said Teramo food official Rolando Piccioni.

Consumers have reported that it takes time for the cheese to turn blue after the package is opened, so some of them ate the cheese without realizing it might have been contaminated, Piccioni said.

In some cases the mozzarella turned blue after six to eight hours, but in other cases, it took two days, he said.

Italy’s health minister urged mozzarella distributors in Italy to remove any of the cheese made by Milchwerke Jaeger.

In Germany, Hermann Jaeger, the owner of the company that bears his name, expressed surprised at the Italian seizure. He said a harmless germ often found in ground water was identified as the problem in mid-May and insisted it had since been filtered out of the water used in production.

He told The AP there have been complaints about only around 10 mozzarella balls exported to Italy — out of a production of 800,000 a day.

Jaeger claimed that there have been no problems since mid-May, that the cheese was since tested in Italy and was fine.

Associated Press reporters Rosy Santella in Rome and Verena Schmitt-Roschmann contributed to this report.

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