The Health Ministry on Thursday canceled production at a major food manufacturing plant after it was discovered it had been shipping out salmonella-contaminated products for over two weeks before managers reported the problem.
The ministry said in a statement it had suspended the manufacturing license for Prince Tahina until further notice and would be destroying all contaminated products in the factory. The production plant is located in the Eilaboun Industrial Area in northern Israel.
At a press conference, Director of Public Health Services Itamar Grotto said that Prince Tahina had known about the contamination for two weeks and failed to inform the Health Ministry. The ministry intends to sue Prince Tahina for endangering public health, he said.
Managers at the tehina producer were summoned for a hearing by the ministry and were ordered to destroy all raw materials at the factory that could have become contaminated, Grotto added.
The discovery of salmonella led one of Prince Tahina’s biggest customers and one of Israel’s largest hummus manufacturers — the Shamir Salads brand, which also produces several lines of generic and branded tehina and other dips and spreads — to issue a recall of over 10 days’ worth of the products.
Shamir Salads CEO Ami Guy said his company also intended to sue Prince Tanina for not informing it about the contamination after it was first suspected.
Some 200 tons of tehina are slated for destruction after Health Ministry inspectors said the product is tainted by the bacteria.
The vice president of Prince Tahina said inspectors had located the source of the contamination as being in a faulty pipe.
“I want to make an important point, we are not blaming anyone,” Yehiel Karat told a press conference.
“A flexible pipe was found to be faulty, and is likely the source and root of the problem. This is an internal error for us and we believe that the flexible pipe in the factory is the source,” he said, adding that further inspections are already underway.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported in June that high levels of bacteria in products from Shamir Salads prompted the IDF to sever its ties with the company.
At the time, the IDF reported the problem to the Health Ministry and removed all of Shamir’s products from its kitchens until checks were completed.
“The IDF carries out strict quality control on all food products before they are transferred to units,” the army told the Ynet news site. “The IDF stopped buying the mentioned products in June 2016.”
It is not known if any soldiers suffered ailments from eating the salads. The report did not make clear if the bacteria found two months ago by the IDF was salmonella.
The military now buys its tehina products from another supplier.
At a special meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee to review the incident, the head of the Health Ministry’s Food Services Administration, Eli Gordon, explained that the responsibility to notify the public of a contamination falls to the company first.
“As soon as the food service implements a recall procedure, we always allow the company to put out a notification of its own accord,” he said.
“This is an incident in which there is an obligation to warn and notify the public. When we identified a problem, intensive work was done to notify the company, and that it should put out a notification to the public.”
The list of products feared contaminated is as follows:
All hummus products from the brands Shufersal, Yesh, Shamir, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatey Habait, Yohananof, and Picnic, with expiration dates between September 1 and 18, 2016.
All tehina products from the brands Shufersal, Yesh, Shamir, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatey Habait, Yohananof, and Picnic, with expiration dates between September 16 and October 3, 2016.
All eggplant-in-tehina products from the brands Shufersal, Yesh, Shamir, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatey Habait, Yohananof, and Picnic, with expiration dates between September 1 and 18, 2016.
Consumers who purchased any of those products were urged to call a customer support hotline set up by Shamir Salads at 03-906-7744.
Prince Tahina apologized for the error, noting that it “was not caused by us,” and said it was “working to remove the products from shelves and all distribution lines.”
It promised to act swiftly to “replace the removed products with new products.”
Last week, Unilever Israel, owner of the Telma brand of cereals, announced it had accidentally shipped salmonella-tainted boxes of cornflakes to stores.