Updated: 01/25/2014 20:16 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan arrests factory worker over suspected food poisoning

Japanese police on Saturday arrested a factory worker for allegedly poisoning frozen food with pesticides, in a case that sickened more than 2,800 people across the nation, news reports said.


Japan arrests factory worker over suspected food poisoning

This picture taken on January 4, 2014 shows police investigators entering the Gunma factory of Japanese frozen foods company Aqlifoods -- a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings -- in Oizumi, to inspect the factory facilities - by Jiji Press

Gunma Police Department arrested the 49-year-old man, identified as Toshiki Abe, who works at a frozen food factory in Gunma, north of Tokyo, run by a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings, Japan's largest seafood firm, according to public broadcaster NHK and other local media.

The suspect denied the allegations, while the motive behind the alleged crime was still unknown, NHK reported.

Local police officials declined to comment.

At least 2,843 people nationwide have complained of illness -- most displaying mild symptoms of vomiting, cramps and diarrhoea -- after eating the suspect products, according to the health and welfare ministry.

The subsidiary, called Aqlifoods, received the first of a series of complaints in November, with a customer saying its frozen pizza smelled like machine oil.

But the firm did not announce a product recall until December 29, after tests found traces of a chemical called malathion, which is used as a pesticide and to treat head lice.

Investigators were interviewing workers assigned to the packaging room, suspecting that the toxin might have been deliberately added during production at the factory, local press said.

Food safety standards are generally high in Japan, and companies that fall short of public expectations often find the reputational damage lasts for years.

Aqlifoods has recalled 6.4 million potentially tainted products, with 5.5 million packages recovered by Tuesday. None of the products in question had been shipped overseas, the company said.

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