Coke publicly admits to mishandling scare

A senior Coca-Cola executive has admitted the soft drinks giant mishandled the recent scare over contaminated Coke in Belgium and France.

It is the first time the US company has said its response to the crisis, in which more than 200 people complained of vomiting and headaches after drinking Coke, was inappropriate.

Coke worldwide chief executive officer Douglas Ivester had issued a belated apology last week, admitting he should have spoken to Belgian consumers earlier, more than a week after the first reports surfaced on June 8.

But Philippe Lenfant, director-general of bottling division Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), went further on Belgian RTBF television’s ‘Controverses’ programme, saying: “I admit we perhaps lost control of the situation to a certain extent.” He went on to say the crisis had been much worse than the company could have imagined.

CCE has put the cost of recalling Coke products in the last two weeks at $60m (&£37.5m), representing the biggest recall in the US giant’s history.

Lenfant’s comments accompany news that four Belgians fell sick after drinking Coke four weeks before the company publicly acknowledged the contamination. Neither Coke, nor the Belgian authorities – which had been alerted – mentioned this incident at the time of the second contamination. Coke says the incident on May 12 was checked and there was no cause for concern. It adds that it is unclear whether the incidents were linked.

Coke says laboratory tests found traces of sulphur in carbon dioxide that entered a small supply of bottles at its Antwerp plant. Cans from its Dunkirk factory were also contaminated by a chemical used on transportation pallets.

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