About 22 months ago, a 10-year-old child from Melbourne perished from an allergic reaction after consuming a coconut drink. Green Time Natural Coconut Drink, the Taiwan-made canned product, was recalled a month following the tragedy in December 2013 but was not previously pinpointed as the reason behind the victim’s fatal anaphylactic reaction.
According to the NSW Food Authority, the recall at that time was made due to the undeclared milk content on the label.
An exclusive report revealed the latest details of the case, including the Sydney importer Narkena Pty Ltd pleading guilty last September to three labeling charges and being due to receive sentence later this month.
Narkena pleaded guilty to two charges that the coconut drink was labeled falsely, and one charge that it was sold contrary to the requirements of the Food Standards Code. Whether an inquest would be made at the conclusion of the other court hearings is yet to be determined, and lawyers are expected to pursue a civil action against the Sydney firm.
A suppression order was only applied in August, despite the death happening almost two years ago.
In the past four weeks, five coconut drinks have also been recalled due to their undeclared cow’s milk content, said the Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia. Nine-year-old Aiden Henderson was reported last month to have experienced anaphylactic shock after drinking flavored beverage Coco Joy, also imported by a Sydney company and was recalled after the incident. The boy had dairy allergies.
Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said expressed dismay that it took almost two years for similar coconut products to be investigated even though the drink consumed by the child was found to have cow’s milk.
Said asserted that an insider from the food science sector would surely “have known the cow’s milk was used for a functional purpose in coconut drink.”
NSW Food Authority is currently testing related drinks – some of which are now off the shelves as the spate of recalls continues.
These incidents have prompted a nationwide investigation into coconut drink and powder product and their contents, with the Department of Agriculture starting to inspect labels and lab-testing those that did not declare milk.
Australian laws penalize an importer who knowingly sells food with human health risks with 10 years in jail.