Tainted Tehina CEO to Testify in Knesset

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

Afif Taunus, chairman of the Nesich company, is set to testify in an emergency session of the Knesset Health Committee Tuesday to answer the questions of angry MKs who will demand to know why he allegedly failed to inform customers for over two weeks that the raw tehina shipped by his firm to companies was tainted with salmonella. On Sunday, the Health Ministry pulled the license of the Nesich company to manufacture tehina products, pending the results of new examinations of the production facility.

Speaking last week, Taunus said that Nesich stopped sales as soon as he was informed by some of its customers that there was a problem with the tehina, and that it had informed all other customers – but apparently the company had neglected to inform Shamir. “I take full responsibility for what happened,” he said. “This is a very large factory. Our only failure was that a staff member failed to send out the memo.”

On Monday, Ronen Tsur, a spokesperson for Nesich, compared the tainting of the tehina with that of the other major salmonella story in recent weeks – the tainting of dozens of tons of cornflakes and other cereals manufactured by Unilever Israel under its Telma brand. Cereal production at the Arad plant where the contamination was found was ongoing, and last week the Health Ministry declared that the plant was safe, and that all contamination had been eliminated. Tsur said that the Health Ministry was being “tough” on Nesich, while letting Unilever Israel off the hook. “It is, of course, much easier to take a tough stance against a small factory in the Galilee than against other factories. If they would close down other factories like they closed Nesich I am sure that the Ministry would come up with different findings.”

Meanwhile, Channel Two revealed Monday night that it had obtained the results of lab tests that showed the Shamir salad company’s salads were free of bacteriological poisoning. Shamir manufactured many of the tainted salads pulled from the market in a massive recall last week, based on the Nesich raw tehina. The official report by the bacteriological lab in Nesher in northern Israel stated that “salmonella poisoning was not found in any of the samples tested,” leading Shamir to market the sales that were eventually pulled.

The raw tehina was also delivered to Strauss, makers of the Achla line of salads, as well as to the Sabra salad company, both of which conducted much more extensive tests, and decided not to market salads using the Nesich product.

As a result, the bacteriological lab could join the long chain of defendants and plaintiffs that are being sued as a result of the scandal. A NIS 6.7 billion class-action lawsuit was filed Sunday against Nesich and against Shamir. In response to the suit, Shamir issued a statement saying that it “took the health of consumers very seriously. When we were alerted last week to the situation at the Nesich factory, we decided not to take a chance with the health of the public, and instituted a recall of our products using raw material from Nesich. Unfortunately, Nesich did not inform us of the situation, even though it had knowledge of the problem for at least 17 days before the revelations last week. We are considering our own legal actions against them.” It was possible that Shamir would seek to include the lab in its action as well, sources said.

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