Knesset to Investigate Cornflakes Scandal, as Unilever Seeks Explanations

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Knesset will discuss the recent salmonella contamination in Telma cereals, MKs said Friday, even as the producer of the cereals, Unilever Israel, said that an internal investigation was being conducted to determine how a pallet of contaminated cereals made their way to stores.

According to the investigation, 643 pallets of 240 packages each – a total of 154,320 boxes – were contaminated. Each of the pallets was labeled with a special barcode that indicated that the boxes were slated to be destroyed, the company said. One of the pallets, it believes, was apparently miscoded – either accidentally or on purpose – and released for shipment.

The Knesset State Control Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the matter, after committee chairperson MK Karine Elharar and MK Itzik Shmueli asked the State Comptroller to investigate the Health Ministry’s actions during the crisis.

On Friday, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that he intended to conduct a “wide-ranging investigation into the matter,” and depending on the results, he would consider pulling Telma’s license to manufacture cereals. “Unilever failed in handling this situation, and we see this as a serious breach of responsibility,” he told Israel Radio. “We cannot rely on their investigation, and our teams will be investigating in order to prevent further harm to the public.”

Shmueli was not satisfied with the response. “Besides the shocking attempts by Unilever to hide the facts of the scandal and thus gambling on the health of children, we need to understand where the Health Ministry was for a week, and why it took them that long to respond. It seems that the Ministry stood behind the company as its automatic response. The Health Ministry must investigate how it lost control of the process, how it had no idea that the products had reached supermarket shelves, thus endangering the health of the public.”

The “cornflakes scandal” that has been plaguing Telma cereals took a serious turn Thursday night, as the company recalled hundreds of boxes of several of its cereal brands that, despite claims by the company last week to the contrary, made it to store shelves. Among the recalled boxes were several hundred boxes of mehadrin cornflakes marketed in chareidi neighborhoods. All the cereals were produced on a production line that was found to have been infected with salmonella.

When the scandal first surfaced last week, the company was insistent that none of the contaminated cereal had left the factory. After repeated grilling by the media, prompted by customers who were unable to find cornflakes on store shelves, Telma’s parent company, Unilever Israel, admitted that the company had destroyed its latest shipment of cornflakes because salmonella was found in several boxes.