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Pigeons, flawed oversight: Health Ministry report on salmonella recall slams Strauss

A Health Ministry report released on Sunday slammed the Strauss Group for a series of oversights and failures that it believes led to the spread of salmonella at the company’s factory in Nof Hagalil, which has prompted a massive recall of Strauss’s consumer products.

According to the Health Ministry, out of 300 samples taken so far from the factory in question, about 30 have come back positive for traces of salmonella.

The massive recall of Strauss’s Elite products was first announced last Monday, and expanded over several days to include a wide range of chocolates, wafers, cakes, cookies, ice cream, gum and candy.

On Thursday, Health Ministry director Nachman Ash said the factory would be shut down for three months while work was undertaken to investigate and repair the damage.

In its Sunday report, the Health Ministry cited a range of issues that it blamed on Strauss, including construction work at the factory that was undertaken without concern for its effects on production; an infiltration of pigeons into the factory that could potentially have played a role; the unfilled role of a director of food safety at the factory; and improper thawing conditions for dairy fats used in chocolate production.

The ministry said that the presence of pigeons in the factory several weeks ago had been dealt with immediately, but that the factory was required to conduct “comprehensive tests” to determine if the pigeons were linked to the salmonella contamination.

It also noted that as of Sunday morning, 21 people in Israel have reported salmonella poisoning symptoms who are believed to have consumed affected products. The ministry said that it took cultures from 16 of the people, and that results would be available in the coming days. It also stated that only six of those 21 sought medical treatment for their symptoms.

Elite products being removed from shelves following the discovery of salmonella on the production line at a factory in the Galilee on April 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said there was no connection between the salmonella contamination at the Strauss factory and a similar contamination in Belgium affecting Kinder chocolate eggs.

The recall, believed to be the biggest in Israel’s history, has worried the Israeli public and dealt a major blow to the Strauss Group, one of Israel’s largest food producers.

In her first comments on the incident, company chairperson Ofra Strauss apologized on Thursday 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.

Strauss Group chairperson Ofra Strauss during a press conference, at Strauss’s main offices in Petah Tikva, April 28, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“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.”

Strauss has come under public criticism for waiting a week to notify the public following initial lab results for salmonella, but the Health Ministry has defended the company in that regard, saying it followed all relevant guidelines as it conducted tests.

Customers with items suspected of containing the bacteria can contact Strauss on its website or via customer service at *6860. The company has promised to refund consumers double the purchase price of affected products, but admitted that it is currently experiencing heavy delays in customer service.

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