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Health Ministry suspects contamination in Tnuva powdered milk production

No risk of tainted products reaching consumers, ministry says; suspicion rises during investigation of salmonella in Strauss chocolate

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Cheese production at the Tnuva Tel Yosef dairy plant, on December 21, 2015. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative: Cheese production at the Tnuva Tel Yosef dairy plant, on December 21, 2015. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Thursday it was looking into possible salmonella contamination in the production lines of powdered milk manufactured by Tnuva, one of Israel’s largest food producers, especially when it comes to dairy products.

The ministry said that the product in question is not sold directly to consumers but rather sold to factories that process it, usually through a heating process, into various products.

“This prevents bacteria from reproducing if they are found in the product,” the ministry said in a statement. “No traces of bacteria have been found so far in retail products that made use of the powdered milk as a raw material.”

Responding to the ministry, Tnuva stressed that there was no threat of contaminated products reaching consumers.

“A test conducted by the Health Ministry has found suspicion of contamination in one of our powdered milk production lines. It’s important to note that the product in question is not sold directly to consumers and is a raw material used by factories in other products, usually after a process of heating or pasteurization that prevents bacteria reproduction,” the company said.

“We are working in full cooperation with the Health Ministry and following its guidelines,” it added.

Illustrative photo of Tnuva milk products. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The ministry said it would continue its investigation into the suspected contamination.

Suspicion arose, the ministry noted, as part of an ongoing investigation into the recent salmonella contamination found at a Strauss factory in northern Israel that led to what some have called Israel’s largest food recall ever.

In a briefing to reporters, the Health Ministry’s head of public health, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, said the ministry was “expanding the scope of its investigations” and conducting tests in other factories across the country.

“We tested products that came from a Tnuva factory and were kept closed,” she said. “We are looking into a suspicion of salmonella contamination in [Tnuva’s] milk production line. I would like to stress that the public faces no health hazards. We will receive additional results in the coming days and ascertain whether the production line was contaminated.”

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a report published by the Health Ministry last week, out of 300 samples taken so far from the Strauss factory, about 30 have come back positive for traces of salmonella.

The report cited a range of issues that it blamed on Strauss Group, 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 findings have dealt a major blow to Strauss Group, one of Israel’s largest food producers, partly due to the company waiting a week to notify the public following initial positive lab results for salmonella.

In that regard, the Health Ministry has defended the company, saying it had followed all relevant guidelines as it conducted tests.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report. 

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