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.