Tehina Salmonella Contamination Could Affect Dozens of Companies

Hummus. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
Hummus. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

While the salmonella tainting of Telma cornflakes was limited to that product – although over 120 tons of the cereal were affected – the tainting of raw tehina, announced this morning by the Health Ministry, could have much more significant consequences for many more companies, and many more Israelis.

For one, the IDF said that the tehina and hummus supplied to it by the Shamir salad company was found to be tainted by salmonella two weeks ago, Yediot Aharonot reported Thursday. The army discovered ‘health anomalies” in samples of the salads, and returned them to Shamir. As a result of the ongoing problem, the report said, the army changed suppliers. It said that as far as it knew, no soldiers had been reported sick from consuming the salads.

A separate report said that salad companies Tsabar (Sabra) and Achla had also detected salmonella in some of its salads, but had caught them and destroyed them before they were released to the market. On Thursday morning, Shamir recalled thousands of containers of hummus and tehina salads, as did numerous private label and supermarket brands, including salads marketed under the brand names Yesh, Asli, Hamutag (Victory), Picnik, Yohannanoff and Salatei Habayit. All carried sell by dates in September 2016.

The culprit is apparently raw tehina manufactured by Nesich, which is distributed to many salad makers in Israel and around the world, and used to make hummus, tehina, and eggplant salads. The Health Ministry said that it would destroy 200 tons of raw tehina manufactured by Nesich, after it was found to contain salmonella bacteria. But the tainting has apparently been going on for some time, and an undetermined amount of tainted tehina has already been distributed.

Supermarket, catering, and restaurant staff were busy Thursday afternoon checking the brand, source, and dates associated with their hummus and tehina salads. Both are by far the most popular salads and condiments among Israelis, and the tainting of the Nesich raw tehina could have long-ranging and very damaging consequences for the Israeli food industry, according to industry officials quoted by Israel Radio.

In the midst of the tehina tainting panic, the Knesset State Control Committee met Thursday morning to discuss the Telma cornflakes contamination scandal. The Health Ministry was accused at the hearing of failing to institute proper inspections of the Telma factory. According to Leora Shimony, a top official in the State Comptroller’s Office, “we believed that inspection of food safety was a top concern for everyone. In order to properly set up an inspection system, you need to identify potential problems, and then develop a system to prevent them.” The Ministry has failed to do this, she said.

In response, Eli Gordon, director of food services in the Ministry, said that it was doing a very good job at keeping tainted food out of the hands of consumers, but that “problems are going to happen, there is no such thing as a perfect record. When we identify a problem, we undertake intensive work to inform the company and we let the public know.”

Testifying at the hearing was Anat Gavriel, chairperson of Unilever Israel, maker of Telma cereals. “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she said of the tainting of over 120 tons of cornflakes and other cereals. “We are feeding the Israeli people, and that is a great responsibility,” she said. “I don’t even know how I go to the office anymore. My world has been destroyed.”

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