ETHIOPIA – In an unprecedented move, a government agency has ordered the shutting down of two soft drink bottling plants and ordered the recall of the products.

The Ministry of Trade has shutdown the MOHA Soft Drinks plant in Hawassa and the East Africa Bottling plant in Dire Dawa over substandard qualities.

The companies are known for their flagship products, Pepsi and Coca Cola, respectively.

Sources from the Ministry of Trade confirmed the closure. However they declined to comment on the current status of the investigations.

The plant in Hawassa, called the Hawassa Millennium Pepsi Cola plant was opened in 2007 and employs over 500 people.

“We have been informed of the process but it is too early to comment,” Tekie Berhan, communication director Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise told Fortune.

The office is responsible for conducting inspections on the two factories regarding the quality of the products.

In a letter written by the enterprise regarding MOHA’s products, the reason behind the closure was revealed as the substandard quality of the soft drinks processed by the plant.

The letter reads that samples taken on October 17, 2016 from the plants from Hawassa failed to fulfill pH Standards set by Ethiopian Standard Agency.

In general, the allegation states that MOHA failed to meet the compulsory standards in soft drinks that were approved by the Agency in 2013.

The test results of Pepsi soft drinks manufactured in the Hawassa plant show that it failed the pH limit standards.

The requirements state that pH values for soft drinks (aside from citrus juices) have to be 2.5. Pepsi’s samples showed 2.43.

A low PH might lead to loss of enamel and bone density.

“In addition we were told that the products contain lead chemicals beyond the standard limits,” Samuel Daregea, director for the Region’s Health & Health Related Products Quality Control Authority, told Fortune.

“The results that we received showed us that Pepsi, Mirinda Apple and Mirinda Tonic failed to pass the test,” Samuel added.

WHO has identified lead as 1 of 10 chemicals of major public health concern.

In the meantime the city’s administration is collecting the products from the market. The recall also includes Mirinda Orange.

The letter by ECAE stated that the closure of the plants would be effective until the products are proved to meet the set standards.

MOHA was closed two weeks ago by an order directly came from the ministry office. “So far there is no new development, the plant is still closed,” he said.

The MOHA Hawassa plant has a production capacity of 36,000 bottles per hour of 300ml soft drinks.

Upon the closure the company was ordered to stop selling the already produced bottles.

“This is just ridiculous,” said a manger from MOHA who asked to remain anonymous. “The company is losing huge amounts of money.”

So far, he estimates, the company has lost around 25 million Br in revenue.

On the other hand, the East Africa Bottling plant in Dire Dawa is another company that felt the brunt of the inspection by the ministry.

“We received the closure order from the Ministry,” said an official from Dire Dawa City Trade Bureau who want to remain anonymous given the sensitiveness of the matter. “Our mandate was to respect and enforce it.”

Its plant in Dire Dawa has a production capacity of 36,000 bottles every hour. Three years ago the company has also invested close to 20 million dollars to increase its capacity five fold.

Fortune’s attempt to speak with Xavier Selga, CEO of East African Bottling S.C failed despite a repeated call and delivered SMS.

December 31, 2016;