Some of Fonterra's milk products contain a strain of harmful bacteria (Fonterra) Fonterra

China's quality watchdog has asked the country's importers to recall milk products supplied by the New Zealand-based Fonterra Co-operative Group after the company found a strain of bacteria in some products.

Fonterra, the world's largest exporter of dairy products, said that it had found that an ingredient in some of its products contained a strain of bacteria that can cause botulism, a disease leading to severe food poisoning.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement that local watchdogs have also been asked to reinforce testing methods for milk products from New Zealand.

"We attach great importance to this issue. We have immediately contacted the New Zealand embassy and urged it to take action in a timely measure," the national quality agency said. However, it did not specify how wide-ranging a recall it had ordered for Fonterra products.

"Our focus is to get information out about potentially affected products as fast as possible so that our customers can make a decision about whether product recalls are required," Gary Romano, managing director of New Zealand milk products at Fonterra, said.

Fonterra said that the contamination issue was identified in March this year. Tests conducted later confirmed the presence of the harmful bacteria.

Although the company has not specified which products are affected, it has said that dairy items linked to fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, spreads and ultrahigh-temperature-treated milk products are safe.

Repeated Issues

This is the second dairy contamination case this year to involve New Zealand's largest company.

At the beginning of this year Fonterra warned that it had found traces of dicyandiamde, also called DCD, a potentially toxic chemical used in fertilisers, in some of its milk powder. Although it was found late last year, the reports emerged only this January.

The development comes in the wake of Fonterra's plan to launch its own branded milk formula in China. Theo Spierings, chief executive officer of Fonterra, is travelling to China in a bid to finalise a deal.