Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash announced Thursday that Strauss Group’s Elite factory in Nof Hagalil would be shut down for the next three months as the company investigates salmonella contamination that caused the company to launch a massive recall of products throughout the country.
“They cannot manufacture and market their products” until the factory is recertified as safe, Ash said following a tour of the facility with workers and health officials.
Ash said ministry teams were looking into “possible flaws” that led to problems on the production line. “We will continue this investigation,” he said. “There is a process that must be done here to make the factory fit for production once more.”
The factory’s certificate of quality “will be restored after we ensure the full lessons have been learned, all the procedures completed and we can be certain not only that the production line is clean of contamination but that there won’t be contamination in the future.”
In her first comments since the launch of the recall, Strauss Group chairperson Ofra Strauss apologized for “the distress” the company had caused, with another official suggesting products may have become contaminated due to the presence of pigeons.
“[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. 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.”
The company first announced the massive recall on Monday, calling on consumers not to purchase and stores not to sell a range of chocolate and snack products due to fears of salmonella contamination. On Tuesday and Wednesday it expanded the recall to include additional products, after ongoing lab tests found further suspected bacteria.
Speaking after Strauss, CEO Eyal Dror revealed additional deficiencies the company had found at the Nof Hagalil factory, saying that officials found pigeons at the facility, which could have contributed to the salmonella contamination. However, he said that there was still no way to confirm whether this was directly connected to the infected products.
“In the weeks before the first discovery, the factory underwent renovations that did not go according to procedures and maybe it’s a risk that had an effect,” Dror admitted. “There were a few days that pigeons were found in the factory. It was not supposed to happen.”
At least three people have been hospitalized recently with suspected salmonella poisoning, though none have been confirmed to have been affected by Strauss goods. The Health Ministry said Tuesday that while most people with symptoms from salmonella will recover in a few days without complications, those who are elderly or immunocompromised should take special care.
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.