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J&J "Softchews" recall grows as wood, metal found

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson issued a recall of its Softchews Rolaids antacids on Thursday after consumers reported finding wood and metal bits in the tablets.

J&J, which recalled some Rolaids products in November, said it was voluntarily recalling all lots of its Softchews products after potentially uncovering problems with a third-party manufacturer that left particles in the medicines.

The recall is the latest in a string of pulled products for J&J's McNeil consumer unit that has drawn attention from U.S. authorities and Congress, hurt sales and tarnished J&J's reputation.

Shares of J&J closed down less than one percent after the announcement.

About 130 lots are affected and include J&J's Extra Strength Softchews, Extra Strength Plus Gas Softchews and its Rolaids Multi-Symptom Plus Anti-Gas Softchews in the United States, according to J&J.

The company also recalled the products in Canada.

"While our investigation is ongoing we have suspended production" of the recalled products, McNeil said in a statement. It will not begin manufacturing the antacids again until the problems have been fixed, the company added.

Consumers who bought those products should not use them, the company said. Representatives for J&J did not return calls seeking additional comment.

On November 23, McNeil announced it was recalling 71,000 packages of a cherry flavored, extra-strength version of Rolaids following consumer complaints of "an uncharacteristic consistency or texture" that was linked to crystallized sugar.

Earlier this month, it also pulled 12 million bottles of its widely used over-the-counter heartburn medicine Mylanta after omitting small amounts of alcohol from the product's label.

Such recent recalls follow problems at McNeil plants in Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania, the latter of which prompted a congressional probe when dozens of popular children's medications were pulled from the U.S. market.

"Today's recall provides a troubling indication that the company continues to exhibit serious shortcomings with its quality control procedures," said U.S. House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns.

Kurt Bardella, spokesperson for the committee's incoming Republican chairman Darrell Issa, said the House panel "will continue to seek answers from J&J and the FDA."

The Department of Justice and the FDA are also investigating whether to file criminal charges or impose civil penalties against J&J.

FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly said the agency was aware of the recall and was evaluating available information to see how serious it was.

Investigations and the recalls themselves have grabbed investors attention as sales take a hit and executives depart. In October, J&J said sales of its consumers products fell 25 percent.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey. Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York. Editing by Robert MacMillan, Bernard Orr)

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