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Japanese bakery head quits over use of expired milk, eggs

The president of a major Japanese cake and candy maker said Monday he was stepping down after acknowledging the company had repeatedly used old milk and other ingredients in products, including cream puffs.

The scandal at Fujiya Co. has alarmed the country partly because the memory of a similar scandal at Snow Brand Milk Products Co., in 2000, in which old milk sickened more than 14,000 people, the country's worst outbreak of food poisoning.

Although Fujiya's problem has not caused food poisoning, it has been devastating for its public image. Japanese media reports have been dominated by coverage of the scandal, noting Fujiya had not learned from the Snow Brand fiasco.

Tokyo-based Fujiya is a century-old family business famous for its lip-smacking life-size mascot-dolls called Peko-chan, which stand in front of the nationwide Fujiya chain confectioneries.

Expired ingredients included cream, eggs, jam
"I am resigning to take responsibility," company president Rintaro Fujii, 64, said on nationally televised news.

The date of the resignation was not set and Fujii will first work to ensure the safety of Fujiya products, company spokeswoman Toshie Hara said.

In a release Monday, Fujiya said an internal investigation unveiled 18 cases over the past seven years in which "expired" ingredients were used at a plant in Saitama, near Tokyo, including milk, cream, eggs, blueberry jam and apple filling in products.

The company apologized and acknowledged the investigation had shown there was "a serious systematic problem."

Excessive bacteria levels found at one plant
In five of the cases, the ingredients were a day past the expiration date, but the dates were unclear in the other cases, it said.

Fujiya said it had also detected bacteria levels exceeding legal limits in products at a plant in Sapporo, in northern Japan.

The company promised to work hard to regain consumer trust. It set up a team last Friday to better monitor quality controls to make sure standards and manuals for food safety are being followed, it said.

Fujiya has discontinued sales of cakes and some other products at chain stores since last week but continues to sell candy and chocolate at convenience stores and supermarkets.

Fujiya shares have tumbled about 18 per cent since last Thursday, when reports of the scandal first surfaced. On Monday, they fell 1.6 per cent to 192 yen ($1.60).


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