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Our Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

2010 July 6
by MieVee @ MummysReviews.com

Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

About 1.5 weeks ago, I opened 1 box of Healthy Times Barley Cereal and was appalled to see at least three black insects (approximately 1-cm long each) hopping and crawling inside the inner packaging. For hygiene reasons, I asked my husband to dispose the box of cereal immediately.

I proceeded to open the next box of cereal and was again shocked to see many small black insects crawling inside the inner packaging. One insect was at the box flap. We took photographs which clearly show the insects in the contaminated box of cereal (see below).

A formal complaint was sent within a day to Healthy Times HQ. However, after more than a week, no one has given me a response. You may view the contents of the complaint letter below.

The complaint has been forwarded to AVA (Singapore), FDA (of the U.S.), Cold Storage (Malaysia), Country Farm Organics, and the Healthy Times distributor in Singapore.

If you have any similar cereal at home, please check it carefully before feeding your baby.

Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

Expiry date: Sep 01 2011 20:56

Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

Insect seen at top left corner of box flap

Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

More insects seen inside the packaging

Healthy Times Barley Cereal Infested with Insects

More insects inside packaging

Dear CEO at Healthy Times,

Introduction

I am a Singaporean mother to a 16-month old toddler and we are based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The purpose of this letter is to make a complaint on two boxes of Healthy Times Barley Cereal opened last evening. The expiry date is Sep 01 2011 20:56, yet the inner packaging have been infested with insects.

Background

When my boy started eating semi-solid foods at 6 to 7 months old, my friend highly recommended Healthy Times organic cereal. Since then, my boy has tried the brown rice cereal, oat cereal and barley cereal and enjoys eating them. Even though the prices are high, we trusted your brand, continued buying your products and even recommended them to our friends.

A few months back, some mothers in an online forum mentioned worms found in Healthy Times cereal. I brushed it off as a rumour, decided to place my trust in Healthy Times and continued buying two boxes of cereal this month.

Our Situation

This month, I bought two boxes of Healthy Times Barley Cereal at Cold Storage (The Gardens, Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) on two separate weekends. The expiry date of each box is Sep 01 2011 20:56.

Last evening (25 Jun 2010), I opened one of the two boxes of cereal and was appalled to see at least three black insects (approximately 1-cm long each) hopping and crawling inside the inner packaging. For hygiene reasons, I asked my husband to dispose the box of cereal immediately.

I proceeded to open the next box of cereal and was again shocked to see many small black insects crawling inside the inner packaging. One insect was at the box flap.

We took photographs which clearly show the insects in the contaminated box of cereal.

My husband placed the inner package of unopened cereal into a zipper bag and we took a video which shows the moving insects.

I placed the package in another zipper bag and stored it in an airtight container. This could be submitted to the relevant authorities for further investigation when required.

A possible cause of the contamination: The inner packaging was not sealed until air-tight during the packaging process.

As the photographs and video files are very huge, only three are enclosed for your current reference. The others could be emailed to you separately or uploaded to the Internet.

Our Actions Taken

Besides sending this letter to you, a notice of this incident has been (or would be) made to the following relevant parties:

  • U.S. FDA
  • Cold Storage, Malaysia
  • Country Farm Organics, Malaysia (where we bought Healthy Times cereal in the past)
  • Damon & Diorne Pte. Ltd., Singapore (sole distributor of Healthy Times products in Singapore)
  • Mummy’s Reviews, Singapore (my company’s website with many readers who buy Healthy Times cereal for their babies)

Actions Needed From Healthy Times

To protect your customers’ babies’ health, please consider the following actions:

  • conduct an immediate voluntary recall of the affected batch of barley cereal (especially the one with expiry date on Sep 01 2011 20:56)
  • investigate the factory’s packaging process
  • update me on your planned actions and findings

I hope that you would look into this matter closely and bring only the safest food products to the market.

Yours sincerely,

MieVee (pen-name)

Singapore & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Update on 13 Jul 2010:

Healthy Times and other parties did not respond to my email at all. Not even an acknowledgement.

In contrast, the complaint was forwarded to AVA Singapore on 8 Jul and an officer replied within 2 hours! Just now, another officer sent an email that highlights the findings from their investigation.

Update on 13 Aug 2013:

The AVA Singapore officer has requested for the email copy to be removed, and I respect that. Anyway, this matter has passed for more than 3 years and any product / packaging could have been updated. Just do your due diligence and checks before purchasing food items. All the best!

37 Responses
  1. July 7, 2010

    Oh my god!!.. this is the brand that I’ve been feeding my baby since he was starting semi-solid 6 months ago. Can’t believe it!

    Should I continue feeding him this?

    Gosh…..

  2. July 7, 2010

    Oh no… I have an unopened pack of this brand with me too right now! I’m planning to start my baby on solids, but next month so can’t really inspect the insides yet.

    • July 7, 2010

      You may consider opening the cardboard box to check. IF it looks fine, then put the unopened plastic packaging with cereal into an airtight container and into the refrigerator. Keep the packaging with expiry date too.

  3. July 7, 2010

    Eww! My boy had the cereals too, but not beyond 10mths to 1year though, It hink.

    You still give your boy cereals at this age?

    • July 7, 2010

      He was eating a mixture of baby cereal and regular organic oats for breakfast. I liked that the baby cereal is fortified with vitamins as he is being weaning off breastmilk and still adjusting to taking multi-vitamins.

      SInce he has soy allergy and eczema-prone skin, new foods can only be introduced very gradually and carefully.

      Anyway, I am feeding him regular organic oats and dropped baby cereal since the incident. :)

  4. ginA permalink
    July 7, 2010

    Oh dear… I thought only Singapore is affected. There was a big hoo-haa a few months ago regarding worms in their cereal. Apparently the Manager was not very nice but not sure how it ended…

    Hope they really do something about it as this is not the first time it happened, be it in SG or MY. These food are for CHILDREN!! Food quality control should be revised!

  5. Diana permalink
    July 7, 2010

    I’ve ever read frm forum that some mother ever encounter worms in her healthy times cereal and wrote to them to complaint but they not only did not give a valid explaination, moreover threaten to sue the lady for false accusation etc.

    • July 7, 2010

      Hi Diana, your last statement was removed, hope you are fine with it. I shall present only the facts and let other parents judge for themselves. :)

  6. July 7, 2010

    Hm.. I’ve found these insects in the past, but not only from Healthy Times cereal, they’ve been in a few various food items from Country Farm Organics. I still buy a LOT of items from Country Farm. I don’t think it’s the brand. If you look closely you can usually see a tiny hole where one of the “worms” (the immature version of those little flying bugs) has eaten a hole through the bag and gotten in. I don’t know if it’s the items being stored improperly or what, but since it has occured over a variety of brands, I know it’s not the brand. I’ve also occasionally bought items that had weevils in them, from a variety of stores, not just organic products.

    We live in a country/climate where there are a lot of bugs. When I was in the US I NEVER had to worry about insects infesting my food. Now I cannot leave dried beans or rice in a bag in the cupboard because eventually weevils will find them. That’s the nature of our country. I’ve bought new bags of rice from the supermarket only to come home and find there were weevils in it. It happens.

    Number one, I don’t think anyone will get sick by consuming a product that had a bug in it.

    Number two, if it is a product that is not going to be boiled (such as baby cereal) I wouldn’t feed it to my baby just because, but I don’t think it would necessarily be harmful.
    Number three, if it’s a product that’s going to be boiled (such as beans or rice) and if it just has one or two little tiny bugs in the bag, I’ll sort through and make sure there are no bugs remaining and make sure the product is unharmed, and I’ll cook it and eat it.

    I don’t think this is an issue for the FDA.

    I do think it was a good idea to send the letter to the distributors, but you should also ask them to investigate their storage areas for infestations.

    • July 7, 2010

      Hi Honey, thank you very much for your insightful reply.

      In my 20 over years consuming oat and cereals, this is the first time that I find such an infestation within the packaging.
      The size of the insects in the first box is certainly much larger than the weevils I have seen in rice before.

      I agree that the being in a humid climate means there are bugs waiting to feed on our dried goods.
      If the manufacturer were to export the products to a humid climate, it should also look into packaging the products suitable for such a climate.
      For instance, thicker tightly sealed packaging or vacuum-packing.

      Items such as rice are meant to be cooked before consumption, so even if there are weevils, it would seem safe after cooking.
      However, baby cereal are not meant to be cooked, so consumers would expect it to be bug free.

      An adult may be able to digest a bug or two easily, while a baby who just started solid food may not.

      I just hope that someone would look into the matter and find ways to improve. :)

  7. Samantha permalink
    July 7, 2010

    hi,

    I also encountered the same problem like u twice & have complained to the organic shop which i purchase the cereal frm. I also believed that other customers also encountered this problem cause after 1 month, the shop that i patronise decided to open the box in front of us to check when we purchase the cereal ………..

    • July 7, 2010

      Hi Samantha, thank you for sharing. The shop is doing the right thing in checking every box after being alerted of such incidents. There are other shops which are not aware, so consumers would find out only when they get home. :(

  8. Jay permalink
    July 10, 2010

    Hi there,

    When I first started buying organic products, I notice these products attract a lot of bugs, weevils and even ants. A friend in US visited and informed that the condition in Asia is perfect for weevils/worms to grow.

    Strange enough, when comes to organic food, most of these “kwai lohs” prefer short shelflife (1-6 months) and are quite happy to see a bug or two in their cereals, oats, flakes and etc. Great indication the food is natural and has no added pesticide, preservative and etc.

    I read a blog a while back. He did a test to prove insect knows best. He placed oats from a famous brand and organic oats in two open jar. After 3 days, what do you know, bugs started attacking the organic oats and left the other untouched. Amazing. You can check it out on youtube too.

    What i would suggest to do is whenever you buy organic food, store in airtight containers or put em in fridge. it helps alot. As for the baby food, always check before use. Healthy Times is a good brand in US. Holle is another brand I’ve tried from Country Farms.

    • July 11, 2010

      Hi Jay, thank you for the information. I can’t imagine being “happy” to see a bug or two in my boy’s or my own cereal. Quite a turn off for our first meal in the morning. especially when I am quite a hygiene freak. Ha… :)

      I do notice worms more commonly in organic broccoli (sometimes a whole camp of them!) and spend a long a time washing them off. As the vegetables are meant to be cooked before consumption, this is still fine.

      Yes, once I open any food package (organic or not), they go straight into airtight containers and mostly into the fridge. Like you, we have tried a few packs of Holle and faced no problems. Of course, we have tried many packs of Healthy Times and these recent 2 were the only ones with bugs. But still… not acceptable.

      Thank you very much for sharing! :)

  9. July 10, 2010

    Hi MieVee!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting on my latest post! Errr… I don’t want my menses to come back laaa!! 25 months of bliss you know… thank God it is not affecting my breastfeeding! I am so worried previously that my breastmilk is going to be stop because of this menses! But I guess, getting the menses back means my uterus functioning properly huh?
    Anyway, good luck with your #2 then! :)

    Btw, this post caught my attention and real glad to see you’re taking some action for this! We’re using Country Farm’s Organic Oats for Ben, so far no problem yet… hope the relevant parties do something about this!

    • July 11, 2010

      Hi Jenny, I am starting to wonder if my uterus is functioning properly! Haha… Anyway, I JUST bought menstrual cups and am looking forward to trying them when my cycle returns.

      And I have been eating Country Farm Organics oats since pregnancy about 2 years ago. Vee is also taking it now, since he has been eating a mix of it with baby cereal previously. The metallic foil packaging is certainly more resilient. :)

      • Josie permalink
        July 16, 2010

        Dear MieVee,

        I was one of the mummy who commented on the Singapore Motherhood Forum on the barley cereal case. I was actually quite stunned by the graphics posted so I sort of joined in the crowd, pointing all my fingers at the manager who handled the complaint. From what the mummy posted, I really thought the manager to be ridiculous. Later on I dropped an email to the manager demanding her to refund me on the 2 barley cereals that I had. She agreed readily and we met up that nite (as I had to work till 9plus that nite). Her attitude was excellent. She apologised for making me feel insecure about the products. We opened up the 2 packets of barley cereal, also 1 Sep 2011 expiry. There was no problem but she refunded me as requested. She went on to explain more to me. The customer who stirred up the whole episode could not get her way with the manager (she wanted monetary compensation), she went on to NTUC to try her luck. NTUC offered refund or replacement. The manager showed me an email from NTUC customer service. I was quite shocked to see that this customer had requested for better compensation from NTUC as well, if not she threatened to go to relevant authorities. It seemed to me that all of us who responded in the forum was made use of by this customer to pressurise the distributor into giving in to her demands. The power of the Internet huh? Not only that, I was told that in the motherhood forum, amongst the ones “slamming” the manager were the customer’s 3 other sisters. I was actually wondering how come all the comments were so hard on the manager at one point. It all made sense. The power of blood. After all it is thicker than water.

        Please do not flame me for speaking up for them.I had wanted to post this after I met up with the manager but the whole saga was over. Maybe I can relate to her better as I am working in Customer Service department in a local shopping mall. I can relate to how the manager feels. I have met with many customers who made up stories to strengthen their stand and get freebies, vouchers etc. In fact I am dealing with many on a daily basis. Please do not misunderstand my remarks. I am definitely not trying to say you are like this. On the contrary, I feel that you are genuinely concerned and from the statements you have made thus far, I think you are a very reasonable person with a calm mind.
        I think it is not a brand problem. It is a storage problem. I think you are being a little unfair to highlight Healthy Times only.

        There are many brands eg Heinz, Gerber, Nestle, Earth’s best etc all packaged in the same way as Healthy Times. When my cousin was working in the supermakets, she told me that Heinz cereal has got “moths”. I think if you feel insecure about the packaging, then maybe you can use other brands that does not have such packaging like the brown rice powder contained in plastic container. It is our humid and hot weather that gives rise to such problems.

        I will continue to use Healthy Times. I find no problem so far. I forgot to mention that the manager also showed me the lab test results by Setsco showing the cereals to be fine. She also invited me to their warehouse. I did not go down but she told me that the warehouse is airconditioned. After we met up she dropped me an email. She told me that she had forgotten to clarify one point. That the people from the forum misunderstood that she threatened legal actions just because the customer did a feedback. It was not so. The legal actions is more on untruthful statements the customer made about her in the forum, more personal defamation I think. Anyway, I really hope that you are not offended by my post. Anyway, thank you for sharing and being very concerned about the food that our babies are eating.

      • July 16, 2010

        Hi Josie, thank you very much for spending time to leave a detailed comment sharing your side of the story. I am glad that the manager handled your request to your satisfaction. :)

        Some clarifications:
        - The pictures posted in this article are of our 2 boxes of Healthy Times cereal, bought in KL. It is a totally separate incident from the saga mentioned in the forum or by the manager you met.

        - The complaint letter was sent to Healthy Times and the relevant parties to provide my feedback on our contaminated cereal. Therefore, no other cereal brands needed to be mentioned.

        - For the past 10 months, we have tried only 3 organic baby cereal brands, with Healthy Times making up probably 90% of our purchases. I have trusted Healthy Times so much that I have never shopped around for other brands, so have no idea how Heinz, Gerber, Nestle, Earth’s Best, etc are packaged.

        - To date, only AVA Singapore has replied my email and done an investigation at the Singapore distributor. The details are included at the bottom of this post.

        - How did you manage to contact the manager? I dropped an email at Healthy Times Singapore website but no one replied.

        - To us, a refund or exchange is unimportant. We just hope to highlight that such incidents could happen once or repeatedly, and the relevant parties need to do checks on possible lapses and prevent similar things from happening again. Also, we feel a duty to highlight to other parents who have bought similar cereal to check carefully before feeding baby.

        Thank you again for sharing and all the best in your career in customer service. You are playing a very important role. Do continue to read Mummy’s Reviews™ and share your insights with us. :)

  10. Bob permalink
    April 22, 2011

    That’s organic food for you!! haha

  11. Some Dude permalink
    September 24, 2011

    The same bug appeared in my frosted flakes. What bugs are these? I think I ate them

  12. Jac permalink
    December 19, 2011

    Hi,
    This post came up on google when I was searching for healthy times cereal. I bought for my elder girl around the same time in 2010 and I had the same problem! I bought them in Country Farms outlet in PJ. All 3 boxes! Complained to the management and exchanged them with Holle.
    I was told that the product is imported but packed locally in CFO warehouse, maybe the contamination occurred here due to our weather. Anyway I found that CFO did not stock up this brand anymore.
    Cheers
    Jac

    • December 22, 2011

      Thank you for the new information, Jac. :)

      I understand that the hot and humid weather helps to breed these pests. Yet I think the inner packaging was too thin and loosely sealed. It opened very easily and didn’t seem airtight enough. Thicker metallic packaging (such as CFO oat cereal) might do a better job.

      Anyway, we moved on to Holle too and had no problems. Shall try it again for my younger boy in several months.

  13. March 27, 2012

    Ooh gosh, this is terrible and we can see which party is really helping. Thanks for fight for our right.

  14. June 19, 2012

    Is this still an issue?

  15. Yessi permalink
    April 23, 2013

    I checked the boxes I bought and sure enough it had little insects!

  16. Lily permalink
    April 25, 2013

    I purchased a box of oat cereal yesterday and found a silkworm inside the bag of cereal! It was alive and wriggling around. I called the company and they didn’t seem bothered or surprised, they just offered to send a replacement!! I said no thank you i will never be using your products again!

    • April 26, 2013

      Glad that you discovered it. Better luck next time! :)

    • Terry Lim permalink
      July 4, 2013

      Hi Lily and Yessi,

      Would really appreciate it if you can let me know where you buy these products from? I will try to avoid these stores. Do you know that many stores import from iherb online stores to resell in Malaysia? In fact majority are doing so until recently. The problems usually arise when these stores or even the parents are ignorant or careless about storing them correctly. In Singapore, there was a time when parents are buying large quantities from iherb online stores and store in their homes which is a paradise for insects. In the forum, the mummies blame each other for poor storage and they even try to claim a replacement with the local distributor even though they bought the products from iherb online stores. They bought a whole of other brands..happy bellies, Earth’s best,

      I work in Singapore so I usually buy from their supermarkets and really no problem at all so far. I have been buying for my daughter for 2 years. When I go back to Malaysia, I order from Singapore online store because I cannot trust the stores here. But I buy some other organic products from organic stores here. I think insects, especially during these few months are really due to weather in Malaysia. Some parents are also ignorant of how to store cereals properly.

      MeeVee,

      was just reading the flow of the entire incident and realise that you have not seen any insects in your entire 20 years of eating cereals and oats. Just to let you know that in our climate, there is only 1 explanation for this. These oats and cereals are most likely fumigated (legal in Malaysia) with methyl bromide. This is very common, you know. Even chicken feeds in Malaysia are fumigated. No doubt that these are organic, it is up to the organic stores to maintain pest free environment.

      Just my 2 cents worth.

      • July 4, 2013

        Hihi Terry, thanks for sharing. By the way, I’ve only started living in Malaysia these past 5 years, have spent my growing up years in Singapore.

        Till now, I think the crux of the issue is that the Healthy Times cereal were packaged in a thin paper-like wrapper that tore easily. In contrast, other cereals / dried powder goods that I’ve bought (many brands, organic and non-organic, from Milo to milk powder, etc.) are well-sealed in metal-lined wrapper / metal tin with foil / box with vacuum-wrapping outside. These don’t tear easily, and there’s minimal risk that insects can bite through them, even in humid weather.

        At home, once the original wrapper is opened, we transfer the cereal / rice / dried goods to air-tight containers, usually stored in the refrigerator.

        As for Malaysia grocery stores, our purchases have been fine so far, whether organic or not. Usually, we buy from outlets such as Cold Storage, Village Grocer, Jusco, and some organic stores. Just that can’t buy too much fresh milk to keep in the fridge cos they tend to spoil even before the expiry date. I realise that the staff tend to bring boxes of milk from the cold storage area and SLOWLY fill up the cold shelves.

  17. Terry Lim permalink
    July 5, 2013

    Hi Mee Vie,

    Just realised that you are the moderator and the host of this forum:) I just happened to come across your forum when I saw the striking :Complaint: Barley cereal. I think you have successfully garnered attention to target HT brand. With lots of anger at first despite you tried to sound calm.(Perhaps for FDA etc not replying to you?) I feel you should ask the Malaysian importer CFO and not get everyone involved..I mean, even AVA in Singapore for matters in Malaysia? My colleague was asking why not the World Health Organisation? Isn’t the Malaysia Ministry of Health closer to where the problem commenced? This isn’t like haze where we can blame the haze in Malaysia on some other country. I guess this is due mainly to ignorance of manufacturing and supply chain flow or management.

    Tracking the posts on this forum, everyone who stood up for the brand gets erm.. well, “advice”.

    I don’t know if there was a change in the inner packaging, but the packaging here is Singapore is not paper thin, like you mentioned. I checked with my collegaues who were using Healthy Times if they have problems with Healthy Times (they were the ones who introduce the brand to me). None of them have the same problem. Most likely storage issues on site, like what AVA had mentioned. It is rather dangerous for any brands to get into bad books of a person-owned forum rather than a company-owned forum like Motherhood forum in Singapore. Perspectives are largely restricted to 1 person’s view and life experiences. The flow of perspectives presented are moderated along the owner’s angles and attitude. Generally speaking only. I am not referring to you. I supposed you must have rendered assistance to many parents along the way.

    Hope you would wield your power in this forum wisely. I am unsure if you are aware that some parents will be organising a vote for the best and the worst parenting portal.

    Good luck to your forum:)

    • July 11, 2013

      Hi Terry, I don’t moderate or host a forum. This blog is where I share personal experiences in child-raising and I always encourage mothers to do their own checks elsewhere and decide for themselves. If you re-read the original post and comments, you’ll understand where I was coming from. I was simply highlighting what happened to our 2 boxes of cereal, and copied my letter to the manufacturer / other parties. Yes, I did copy the importer, CFO, but no response from them. Most importantly, the manufacturer didn’t respond too and shine a light on what could have been the issue.

      Highlighting the issue to AVA was important to me because it was a Singapore friend who recommended this brand to me and I’ve recommended Singapore friends to buy it too. And often, same brand products manufactured for Singapore and Malaysia use similar packaging. I wanted to have a peace of mind for these Singapore babies. I’m glad that AVA found it important to have a check at the storage site, even knowing clearly that I bought the cereals in Malaysia.

      Perhaps the packaging has been improved, which is great.

      Anyway, this incident has passed for more than 3 years, so comments will be closed from now on. All the best!

  18. Yessi permalink
    July 5, 2013

    Hi Terry,

    I purchased the box in Hong Kong. The supermarkets name is Taste. As soon as I bought it I opened it so I returned them that same day.

  19. Terry Lim permalink
    July 8, 2013

    Yessi,

    thank you for your response. Hope you manage to get a replacement or a refund. I know Taste supermarkets, I think they are in the same group as Parknshop. My friend in Hong Kong tells me that humidity in Hong Kong is higher than in Singapore at about 77-87% all year round. Singapore is about 70-80% all year round. I was rather surprised as I did not feel so when I was there. I stayed there for 3 months for work. Maybe I was in aircon room most of the time… higher humidity means higher chance of insect infestation if food products are not stored properly by the shops..I really appreciate your reply. Thanks again.

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