The Fonterra botulism scare, which caused a succession of product recalls by international dairy giant, sparked a succession of inquiries, and brought the resignation of a director, was a false alarm.
New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries on Wednesday confirmed speculation that its tests of Fonterra whey protein concentrate powder, which had been suspected to contain Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, had turned out negative for the bacterium.
The whey product had in fact contained Clostridium sporogenes, which can cause food spoilage, but not botulism.
"We went to world-leading labs, which are accredited and can test for this," said Scott Gallacher, the ministry's acting director general Ministry for Primary Industries.
"That has given us a clear and definitive sense that it isn't Clostridium botulinum. There is no food safety risk here."
The findings come nearly a month after Fonterra unveiled that AgResearch, one of only two New Zealand-based laboratories capable of testing for Clostridium botulinum, had detected the bacterium, prompting an international furore.
Besides prompting the isolation of the whey protein concentrate at the centre of the furore, the discovery also provoked recalls in China of products from Fonterra customers such as Abbott, Coca-Cola and Danone which may have contained affected ingredient.
Fonterra product has also come under increasing focus in other countries, including Bangladesh, which held up some products for testing, and Sri Lanka, where its products were temporarily banned, and the company witnessed protests outside its offices.
Furthermore, the furore led to the resignation of Gary Romano as the co-operative's head of New Zealand milk products.
'Fiasco continues to be a disaster'
Indeed, Tim Groser, the New Zealand Trade Minister, on Wednesday termed the contamination scare "an embarrassment" to the country, where Fonterra is the biggest company, besides beigb the top world dairy exporter.
"We checked the information, the information turned out to be false," he told Radio New Zealand.
"The consequences of this have been very serious, [we are] not comfortable about that, and we need some answers to how all this happened."
Opposition primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor termed the results said that "our failure to ensure the highest standards of testing, monitoring and auditing means the damage has been done to New Zealand's international reputation.
"This fiasco continues to be a disaster for our clean, green brand."
The country's Infant Formula Exporters Association said that its members had lost "milllions" of New Zealand dollars over the scare.
At Fonterra, Theo Spierings, chief executive, said that the co-operative had "no choice" but to order the whey protein concentrate recall and inform regulators after the initial finding of Clostridium botulinum.
"We could not take any chances," he said.
""For me, as Fonterra's chief executive and as a father of three children, I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment.
"Food safety and quality must always remain our top priority."