After a Health Ministry group toured the Telma factory in Arad Sunday to investigate how cereals contaminated with salmonella left factory production lines, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said Monday that the factory would now be under close supervision, especially after it emerged that boxes of cereal that had been contaminated were shipped to stores.
“We will examine this factory daily, sending in staff to take samples,” he said. “We will also hire private investigators if need be to determine how the cereals got out onto the market. Last week members of our staff were at the factory and were informed that none of the cereals had been shipped. When it emerged that they were shipped, we decided to visit a second time, and then discovered that they had misled the public.”
The question of how to “punish” Telma and its parent company, Unilever Israel, may be moot, however. According to the heads of Israel’s largest supermarkets, sales of all Telma cereals have dropped to next to nothing, whiles sales of other products bearing the Telma label, from soup powder to mayonnaise, were down as well. According to a report in Calcalist, the heads of the large supermarket chains are furious at Unilever Israel, which “did everything it could to keep this quiet,” according to the CEO of one large supermarket chain. “The problem is that we are the ones left holding the bag. Now that their reputation is out the window we can’t sell their products – nobody wants them because of the loss of trust – but they occupy a large space on our shelves.”
Among the complaints of the market heads is the pressure Unilever put on them to back the company’s claims that the cereals were safe, and that none had been shipped to stores – a claim that eventually was shown to be incorrect. Using ads, social media, and other methods, managers of chains and branches reassured consumers that the cereals were safe. “Now we are seen as participants in this scandal,” said the CEO. “Not only did they lie, they recruited us to lie for them. This is unprecedented, and requires an unprecedented response.”
The “cornflakes scandal” that has been plaguing Telma cereals took a serious turn last 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 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.
In a statement Thursday night, Unilever Israel, makers of Telma cereals, said that “after inquiries by consumers we have discovered 240 units of Badatz hashgachah cornflakes that are to be recalled.” The boxes were produced on June 27. Also recalled were several hundred boxes of Kookieman, a chocolate-flavored cereal. Purchasers of cereals marked with that production date were instructed to return the products to retailers for a refund.