H.J. Heinz Co. is looking at multilayer PET bottles as a potential culprit for short weights in ketchup bottles discovered in some U.S. states. The search also includes manufacturing and distribution techniques. The Pittsburgh firm pulled about 98,000 of its large ketchup bottles from U.S. shelves in the past few weeks after a complaint from a California consumer. The National Institute of Standards and Technology found under-weight bottles in 20 states. Heinz spokeswoman Deb Magness said underweight bottles averaged about a half teaspoon less ketchup than specified on the bottle label.
Magness declined to speculate on the cause of low weights in some bottles but defended Heinz's use of the PET container, which it introduced in the United States in 1990.
``We are committed to the PET bottle,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``It has proved itself safe and reliable.''
Possible culprits include loss of moisture from the PET container or improper warehousing conditions. Heinz has not ruled out manufacturing methods either, although the Ohio Department of Agriculture found no obvious problem at Heinz's Fremont, Ohio, filling operation, which fills about 80 percent of the firm's ketchup bottles. Magness said Heinz met federal filling standards at Fremont and its other U.S. ketchup plant in Tracy, Calif. She estimated Heinz sells about 400 million bottles of ketchup a year.
Heinz's PET bottle supplier, Continental PET Technologies Inc., said it knew little about the alleged under-filling problem.``This just came up and [Heinz hasn't] said much to me,'' said Tom Roembke, Continental PET's vice president of sales, from his Florence, Ky., office. He referred questions to Continental PET's research unit in Bedford, N.H., where officials did not return calls.
Officials at Eastman Chem-ical Co., supplier of PET resin for the Heinz bottle, also said they did not know much.
``We've had no involvement or contact with Heinz to this point,'' said Eastman spokesman Larry Snider by telephone March 13 from Kingsport, Tenn.
The ketchup bottle has three PET layers and two barrier layers of ethylene vinyl alcohol. Heinz has touted its recyclability with PET soda bottles since it introduced the containers to replace multilayer polypropylene ketch-up bottles.
An Associated Press report said Heinz could face fines of $15,000 in Philadelphia for underselling consumers by about 2,500 pounds of the sauce. As an interim measure, Heinz is ``super filling'' its ketchup bottles, Magness said.