China Shuts Down Coca-Cola Plant after Chlorine Reports

The country is one of Coca-Cola's most important growth markets, accounting for around 7% of its global volume last year.

After media reports of chlorine in its products, Coca-Cola (IW200/112) has been ordered to temporarily halt production at a bottling plant in northern China, according to a government statement.

Shanxi province ordered an investigation after reports that a batch of drinks contained water with chlorine, the province's quality bureau said in a statement at the weekend. "An on-site inspection, product testing, consultation of records, interviewing workers and other methods confirmed media reports about the situation were fact," it said.

But a spokesperson for Coca-Cola said on April 30 that the production suspension, which was temporary, was unrelated to food safety or chlorine levels, and arose from other issues found by the government inspection.

"The chlorine levels are well below the WHO (World Health Organization), EU, North American and China standards for drinking water," she said.

Chlorine is commonly used in water treatment to kill bacteria, but high levels can be hazardous to human health.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said it was moving to address the issues related to quality and production but gave no details.

"The quality and production issues being addressed at our bottling plant in Shanxi, China, are isolated to that one location, and the company is moving quickly to resolve them," a company statement said. "At no time did these issues affect the safety of our products in the market."

A receptionist at Coca-Cola Shanxi Beverages Co. confirmed to AFP that the plant had already stopped production.

The contamination occurred in February when water with small amounts of chlorine accidentally flowed into water used for drinks during maintenance work, the official Xinhua news agency said on April 29. An anonymous company whistle-blower told local media that nine batches of products were contaminated, it said.

China has experienced several scares over food safety in recent years, many blamed on lax supervision or producers deliberately cutting corners and deceiving consumers in search of profits.

China is one of Coca-Cola's most important growth markets, accounting for around 7% of its global volume last year, according to the company.

Coca-Cola has said it plans to invest more than $4 billion in China over the next three years starting from 2012.

The company has more than 40 bottling plants in China, where it cooperates with Chinese food giant COFCO and Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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