Malt-O-Meal maker sues over tainted ingredient

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 25, 2012 - 8:20 PM

Antifreeze found in vitamin C made in China forced a recall.

A Minneapolis-based food firm this week sued one of its ingredient suppliers, alleging that antifreeze-tainted vitamin C made its way from China into thousands of boxes of Malt-O-Meal-branded cereal.

After discovering the spoilage, MOM Brands, formerly known as Malt-O-Meal Co., recalled its Marshmallow Mateys cereal in five states and destroyed thousands of cases of product held in inventory.

Saying it lost more than $840,000 because of the incident, MOM Brands sued suburban Chicago-based DMH Ingredients Inc. for liability and breach of contract and warranties. It's asking for recovery of damages. DMH denies the allegations.

In August 2010, an employee at MOM Brands' cereal plant in Asheboro, N.C., noticed an odd smell coming from a box of sodium ascorbate, a vitamin C supplement, the suit said. Cereal makers often fortify their products with vitamins.

MOM Brands stopped using the suspect ingredient immediately and recalled the cereal from six retail customers, the suit said. While no one is known to have been sickened, company representatives had to visit more than 1,500 retail sites and remove more than 1,200 boxes of cereal from store shelves.

Another 22,000 cases of cereal in inventory "had to be held or destroyed" due to contamination, the suit said. An independent testing lab discovered the sodium ascorbate contained ethylene glycol, widely used as automotive antifreeze, as well as other chemicals that weren't supposed to be there.

MOM Brands believes the tainted vitamin C was made by Northeast General Pharmaceutical Factory in Shenyang, China, the suit said.

According to Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group, 90 percent of the United States' vitamin C supplements had come from China by 2007.

China has been the source of a string of food safety problems in recent years, the most severe being a 2008 poisoning outbreak involving infant formula tainted with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics.

The suit was filed in Hennepin County District Court but has been moved to U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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