Frozen food isn’t the healthiest option available, but no one should have to worry about being poisoned from consuming it!. Still, more than 1,700 people in Japan have fallen ill due to pesticide contamination in some of the country’s frozen foods—including pizza.
The food comes from frozen food maker Aqli Foods, a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings, Inc. The company sells everything from frozen seafood products to chicken nuggets, pizza, and lasagna.
Complaints to the company began several months ago, in November, when consumers reported their frozen pizzas smelling of “machine oil”. The complaints continued and thousands fell ill. On December 29, the company recalled several products and since then over a half a million people have contacted the company with symptoms.
Testing discovered the presence of a pesticide called malathion, used to kill aphids in corn and rice crops, and also used to treat head lice. While the toxicity to humans is said to be low, it was obviously present in large enough amounts to cause vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, and more.
Perhaps most troubling, investigators believe the contamination may have been intentional. A spokesperson for Maruha Nichiro Holdings, Inc., explains they don’t test their foods for pesticides as they normally have no reason to believe they would be contaminated with such toxins. Authorities with the Gunma Prefecture police suspect the contamination may have taken place there during production at a Gunma factory.
More than 300 employees are a part of the investigation. Eighty-one of these workers are of special interest because they worked in the packaging room, where the tainting is believed to have happened.
Some dismiss the suggestion that contamination was intentional and an inside job, saying workers in the factory work in close proximity to one another and in uniforms with no pockets for concealing contaminants.
So far, Maruha Nichiro has received 630,000 phone calls from consumers related to the products in question. More than 6.4 million products have been recalled, but only 1.49 million have been recovered so far.
Fukushima aside, the Japanese food industry is known to be relatively safe, with high standards. Still food scares happen there. In 2012, seven people were killed by E.coli contaminated cabbage.