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Blue Mozzarella UPDATE: Bacteria Caused Color-Change, Italy Says

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UPDATE, 6/22, 4:25pm -- (Harmless?) Bacteria Turned The Mozzarella Blue

ROME (AP) -- Batches of Mozzarella balls turned blue because of bacterial contamination during production in Germany, Italian prosecutors and health officials said Tuesday, after more than a ton of the suspect cheese was seized.

But the German maker was insisting that the problem was resolved a month ago.

Last week, Italian paramilitary police specializing in food contamination seized 70,000 balls of mozzarella in Turin after consumers complained the milky-white cheese turned blue after the package was opened. Cheese was also seized in Trento, in northern Italy. This week more suspect cheese was found in Sardinia and in Abruzzo near the Adriatic, authorities said.

The Turin prosecutor looking into the mozzarella mystery said testing had found bacterial contamination, but it wasn't clear yet how the contamination occurred.

"Surely it happened in the production phase," but investigators will not say more until they discover how the bacteria contaminated the mozzarella, prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told The Associated Press by telephone. He declined to say which bacteria had been found.

Mozzarella suspected of being contaminated has been found in Bologna, in Sardinia, including in Sassari and on the tiny Sardinian island of Isola della Maddalena, and in Bologna, Guariniello said.

In Teramo, a town in Abruzzo where blue mozzarella was found, health officials said results to identify the bacteria would be ready in about 48 hours.

The health ministry in Rome said it has received no complaints of illness linked to the blue mozzarella.

So far more than a ton of mozzarella produced by the German maker Milchwerke Jaeger Gmbh in Germany under five brand names has been seized, the ministry said.

A director of food health services in Teramo said the bacteria didn't appear to have toxic effects.

"Those who ate the mozzarella didn't get any type of illness," said Teramo food official Rolando Piccioni.

Consumers have reported that it takes time for the cheese to turn blue after the package is opened, so some of them ate the cheese without realizing it might have been contaminated, Piccioni said.

In some cases the mozzarella turned blue after six to eight hours, but in other cases, it took two days, he said.

Italy's health minister urged mozzarella distributors in Italy to remove any of the cheese made by Milchwerke Jaeger.

In Germany, Hermann Jaeger, the owner of the company that bears his name, expressed surprised at the Italian seizure. He said a harmless germ often found in ground water was identified as the problem in mid-May and insisted it had since been filtered out of the water used in production.

He told The AP there have been complaints about only around 10 mozzarella balls exported to Italy - out of a production of 800,000 a day.

Jaeger claimed that there have been no problems since mid-May, that the cheese was since tested in Italy and was fine

Previously, 6/19:

ROME (AP)-- Italian police confiscated some 70,000 balls of mozzarella in Turin after consumers noticed the milky-white cheese quickly developed a bluish tint when the package was opened, authorities said Saturday.

Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan ordered ministry laboratories to investigate what he called a "disturbing" development.

State TV said a woman in Turin called police after noticing that the mozzarella, made in Germany for an Italian company, turned blue after contact with air, and that several merchants in Turin had received similar complaints. Later in the day another consumer, in Trento, a city 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the east in northern Italy, made a similar discovery, authorities said.

Samples were sent to laboratories that normally deal with anti-doping testing in sport to see if they could detect any foreign substances.

Results were expected in a few days.

Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio alerted German authorities and the European Commission to the apparently tainted mozzarella, the health ministry said.

No cases of illness were immediately reported.

The mysterious blue mozzarella was the latest embarrassment for a food that is a point of pride for Italians and a staple in pizzas, panini and even the signature "caprese" salad in the red-white-and-green colors of the national flag -- ripe tomatoes, creamy rich cheese and fragrant basil leaves.

Most prized of all the mozzarella is the kind made from buffalo milk. But earlier this year, Italian agriculture authorities said some of the buffalo mozzarella, which comes from an area south of Rome, had fallen below standard after traces of cow's milk were found in it.

Two years earlier, tests at hundreds of Italian mozzarella production plants found high levels of dioxin in some samples of buffalo milk. That scare led some countries to suspend imports.

Buffalo mozzarella enjoys Europe's Protected Designation of Origin label, meaning the real thing has to be made following strict criteria, including using only buffalo milk.

After blue mozzarella surfaced, the Italian agriculture lobby Coldiretti lamented that many consumers don't know that half the mozzarella sold in Italy is made from foreign-produced milk. It is pushing for legislation that would oblige producers to the origin of all ingredients on the label.

Currently, only cartons of fresh milk must indicate where the contents come from. Makers of yogurt, powdered milk and cheeses can use imported milk without mentioning it on the label.

Authorities didn't immediately make public the name of the German company making the suspect mozzarella or the Italian label on it.

The health ministry said areas in Italy where the blue mozzarella might be put on sale were put on alert in case the product shows up in stores.

WATCH: Images of the "disturbing" cheese

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