China shuts Coke plant after chlorine reports

Coca-Cola has been ordered to temporarily halt production at a bottling plant in northern China after media reports of chlorine in its products, 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 Monday 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.

Coca-Cola said it was moving to address the issues raised by the government, which included restricting access between production and cleaning areas.

"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," said a statement provided to AFP.

"At no time did these issues affect the safety of our products in the market."

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

The incident 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 late Sunday.

An anonymous company whistle-blower told local media that nine batches of products were affected, 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 seven percent of its global volume last year, according to the US 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.

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