The company has pleaded guilty to breaching food safety regulations – a criminal offence.
In May last year, a mother from Arklow, Co Wicklow, bought a 50g packet of O’Donnell’s Mature Irish Cheese and Onion gluten-free crisps for her 10-year-old son. However, she noticed he was beginning to suffer a reaction to the crisps when his ears turned red. The mother complained to the company and the HSE subsequently brought the case.
Judge Gráinne Malone at Navan District Court said that the case was “a very serious matter” and the court was told the maximum penalty on indictment in the Circuit Court was a €500,000 fine and/or three years in prison. However, the judge accepted jurisdiction of the District Court in the case.
Giving evidence, HSE environmental health officer Caitriona Sheridan said that in order for a product to be labelled gluten-free it was required to have less than 20 parts-per-milligram (ppmg) gluten.
When the crisps that were the subject of the complaint were tested, they were found to have more than 700ppmg gluten. A second sample had more than 100ppmg gluten.
Two other complaints were made about the presence of gluten in the gluten-free products. Counsel for the company, Andrew Whelan, told the court the issue was identified as malfunction in the line. “My client’s response to this had been ‘hands up’,” he said.
Mr Whelan told the court that Largo, which the court was told has an annual turnover of €90m, had spent €100,000 to remedy the problem and gluten-fee products were now packaged in a “totally segregated” production area. “We are confident that this problem will not happen again,” he said.
Largo indicated it would be prepared to make a donation to charity for people with coeliac.
However, the judge adjourned the case until December 16 to allow the mother of the victim to be present in court, if she wished, to witness the outcome of her complaint and outline the impact of the crime.
Source: Irish Independant.