Health Ministry Says Pigeons May Have Contaminated Strauss Food Factory

View of the Strauss Elit candy factory in Nazareth, Northern Israel. Photo by David Cohen/FLASH90

Flaws in the safety regimen at Strauss’s Elite factory may have been responsible for the cases of suspected salmonella infections which prompted a massive recall of the company’s chocolate and other products, according to a report from the Ministry of Health on Sunday.

The ministry which has shut down operations at the plant in Nof Hagalil for three months pending the results of its investigation, found that pigeons had entered the factory several months ago and could have been the source of the contamination.

Inspectors also ascertained that the factory’s quality control team had undergone changes in the past year and that the key role of food safety manager had temporarily gone vacant.

In addition, a complaint from a customer which pointed to possible salmonella in their Elite chocolate did not lead to the factory conducted tests, as it should have.

Strauss Group has been given 14 days to respond to the Ministry of Health’s report.

Meanwhile, 21 cases of suspected salmonella infections from Strauss products have been reported. Samples taken from 16 of the patients are being analyzed and results are expected within a few days. Six of the suspected salmonella patients required hospitalization.

However, as Globes noted, it may be difficult to prove a causative link between the salmonella found in the Strauss production line and the cases reported, as there are anyway cases of the illness in Israel.

Salmonella contamination turned up in 30 samples out of 300 taken in the factory.

The recall, likely the biggest in Israeli history, covered a long list of items including: Elite chocolate, Elite cakes, Elite waffles, Energy snack bars, Energy chocolate covered rice crackers, chewing gum and soft sweets, with all expiry dates.

Strauss Group’s share price has fallen 8% since the revelations began last week and is down 18% since the start of February. The share price recovered somewhat, rising 1.68% Sunday, giving a market cap of NIS 10.5 billion.

In a statement last Thursday, Strauss chairperson Ofra Strauss apologized for “the distress” the company had caused.

“[I’m] here to say on behalf of the company as clearly as possible: I apologize that we disappointed you. I’m sorry for all the distress you’re going through because of us,” Strauss said during a press conference along with other company officials.

“We’ve never dealt with an event like this and it’s the biggest recall in Strauss history,” she added. “We will only open the factory when we are sure that everything is safe. I am the chairperson of the company and have been part of all the decisions over the past week. We have all been working hard throughout this week.”

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