Coca-Cola's Minute Maid dairy drinks that were blamed for the death of a young boy in northeastern China and for sickening three other people had been "deliberately poisoned," a state news agency said Tuesday.
The Xinhua News Agency reported that chemicals used in pesticides were found in the contaminated drinks, but added that authorities have not yet said how the poison was added to the bottles of Minute Maid Pulpy Super Milky or who might have been responsible. The investigation is continuing.
China's National Center for Food Quality Supervision has released a report saying tests on samples from the same batch of the strawberry-flavored drink did not turn up any problems.
Coca-Cola has maintained that its products are safe, and emphasized again on Tuesday that it has rigorous quality checks in place.
"The police's technical tests and investigations have preliminarily confirmed that this incident is a criminal case ... which reaffirms that it is not related in any way to our product quality," spokeswoman Joanna Price said in a statement. "We are 100% confident in the safety and quality of our products."
Minute Maid Pulpy, a variation on the global juice brand Minute Maid with added fresh-fruit pulp, was created in Shanghai for the Chinese market in 2004, and is Coca-Cola's first billion-dollar brand to have launched in an emerging market. The brand was expanded in 2009 with the introduction of the line of fruit-flavored dairy drinks, with ads by Coke's Minute Maid agency in China, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Shanghai.
The Chinese internet was initially abuzz over the poisoning case, in which a boy died and his mother had to be hospitalized after sharing a bottle of Super Milky on Nov. 28. Two other people also fell sick after drinking a bottle in a separate case, but have since recovered.
The milk drink was pulled from shelves in Jilin province, where the poisoning occurred, and stores in other parts of the country also yanked the product as a precaution. But consumer nervousness appeared to have subsided. While the story was one of the most discussed topics on China's popular Sina Weibo microblog when it broke, the topic wasn't on the site's top search list Tuesday.
China's dismal product safety record has included scandals such as infant formula laced with industrial chemicals to fake cancer drugs to pork pumped with steroids. Food safety is a common concern among nearly all Chinese consumers.