Norway says listeria in feta import

A year after winning a difficult fight for exclusive rights to the traditional name feta for its distinctive white cheese, Greece suffered a blow a week ago when Norwegian authorities informed Athens that listeria had been found in a shipment of cheese from Greece. The bacterium can be caused by badly pasteurized milk or problems in processing the cheese. It can cause fatal poisoning in population groups such as the very young or old. Although the Kolios dairy company, which produced and exported the cheese, and the National Food Inspectorate (EFET) assured the public yesterday that none had been distributed on the Greek market, there were fears that the damage caused could be far reaching. In December, Denmark challenged the European Commission for giving Greece exclusive rights to produce feta cheese, calling it a generic foodstuff and not a regional delicacy. Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hadzimichalis said yesterday that the Kolios dairy has remained closed since July 1, after the Norwegians informed the Greeks that they had found listeria in a shipment of 2,880 kilograms of the cheese. EFET said on Monday that the rest of the cheese from the same batch had been impounded. Hadzimichalis said the previous and following batches were also being held. The results of tests on them will be announced in the next few days. The Kolios company announced yesterday that the problem in Norway was «an isolated incident caused by external agents.» It did not elaborate. It said that EFET’s repeated inspection of Kolios’s installations had found that its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system was being adhered to meticulously. This keeps an eye on various factors during production, such as humidity, temperature and bacteria. Last August, Hadzimichalis, fearing that rule-bending could provide rival EU dairy producers with the means to assail Greece’s trademark, urged cheesemakers to maintain strict quality controls. «The protection of feta, in particular, is a first priority,» he said.

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