ISRAEL – Strauss Group, the largest food company in Israel, has recalled several Elite branded confectionery products as they may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The company has recalled Elite branded items such as cakes, wafers, energy grain snacks, energy chocolate rice cakes, chewing gum and toffee candies of all dates.

They were distributed in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The Israeli Ministry of Health reported that 21 patients of various ages have so far fallen ill after consuming the products, six of whom have been hospitalized. Samples were collected from 16 cases and results will be available in the coming days.

According to test results received so far, there is no link between the Israeli chocolate incident and the Ferrero monophasic Salmonella typhimurium outbreak that has affected 200 people in 12 countries from Kinder chocolate products made in Belgium.

The contamination was uncovered after the Ministry of Health inspected Strauss’s factory in Nof Hagalil and uncovered “significant” failings in the company’s protocols.

The agency has suspended the plant’s approval for three months or until the issues detected during the visit have been rectified. Strauss is expected to address the failings and respond to the findings within 14 days.

From about 300 samples collected from the factory’s production line, raw materials, in-progress products and finished items both within the factory and from the market, about 30 positives have been found. Salmonella was detected on a production line and in the liquid chocolate used to make finished products.

Positive samples have been sent to the National Salmonella Center at the Ministry of Health’s Public Health Laboratory to determine the type of Salmonella.

Strauss has previously apologized for the contamination and via a statement said,

“We will study and learn from the incident, change and improve the testing system and return to production only when we know that the factory and production lines are in order and the products are safe.”

Flawed oversight

The inspection revealed that maintenance had been performed in the factory in the past few months while chocolate making continued unchanged, creating a leeway for contamination.

In addition, the Ministry discovered that the plant’s quality assurance staff had been replaced during the course of the past year leaving the Director of food safety role vacant. This in turn left a gap in the quality assurance and safety section of the factory.

It was also revealed that an unnamed client had filed a complaint that Salmonella indicators were higher than the levels permitted for liquid chocolate. However, the alert was not processed by the company as required and no tests were done to determine the presence of Salmonella.

Several weeks before the audit there was a pigeon infestation in the manufacturing area of the site. The company said this was dealt with immediately and an exterminator was used.

Further, the inspectors uncovered improper thawing conditions for dairy fats used in chocolate production, which may lead to contamination.

While still grappling with the biggest recall in Israel’s history which has brought it under public criticism, Strauss has once again been faced with a fire breakout in one of its training rooms in the Nof Hagalil facility.

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