At least two children and one adult have sought out medical attention with suspected cases of salmonella poisoning following a massive recall of Strauss products ranging from chocolate to ice cream, pudding, cookies and other snacks over contamination fears.
According to Hebrew media reports, two children who recently sought care at the Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod are suspected of being poisoned by salmonella, pending full lab results. In addition, a man who was treated at an urgent care facility in Bnei Brak with relevant symptoms said that he had consumed some of the infected products recently.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday that the incident will be fully investigated and the factory will not be allowed to resume operation before it is fully cleared.
“The chocolate factory of Elite-Strauss will not return to production until we can reach an unequivocal conclusion that it can produce products that are healthy, clean and pose no threat to the public,” Horowitz said, adding the the story is “a great example of why we need regulation and why the government must serve as a monitor.”
Amid the massive recall, the Health Ministry said Tuesday that the company had first identified traces of salmonella in its facilities a week ago, but held off on the recall until full test results came back — actions that adhere to ministry guidelines.
The ministry also warned the elderly and immunocompromised to watch out for signs of salmonella poisoning, and for anyone with symptoms to consult a doctor. It noted that in the vast majority of cases, those who suffer from symptoms recover fully in two or three days.
Strauss Group, one of Israel’s largest food product manufacturers, said Monday that numerous popular chocolate products produced by its subsidiary company Elite would be recalled due to concerns of salmonella contamination. The move is believed to be the largest food recall to ever take place in Israel and has expanded to include several dozen products.
The Health Ministry on Tuesday confirmed media reports that concerns had first arisen on April 19, when routine tests “showed the presence of salmonella in the production area but not in the food products sampled at the factory.”
The company was ordered to conduct further inspections, and an initial test result on April 21 found salmonella in raw materials used at the plant. Only once the full lab test confirmed the initial findings on Sunday afternoon did the Strauss Group issue the recall, the ministry said.
Hebrew media reports claimed that the final test results were delayed due to Passover, which was marked last week and during which many offices and operations are closed or working in a limited capacity.
The ministry stressed that the recalls on chocolate products had been issued as a precautionary measure, and that final lab results on those items are expected on Wednesday.
It said it has ordered the company to investigate the cause of the incident and take corrective action to prevent future cases. It also said that the factory will only resume production following an investigation, preventative actions and full disinfection, inspection and new lab tests.
The products affected include some of Israel’s most popular snacks: Pesek Zman bars (those marked best before December 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023), Reva L’Sheva bars (best before between May 1, 2022 to December 15, 2023), Kif Kef, Taami, Egozi and Energy bars (best before July 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023), Parra Chocolate bars (best before October 1, 2022 to April 24, 2023) — all produced by Elite. The recall was later expanded to include the Milky chocolate pudding topped with chocolate lentils as well as a wide range of ice cream products, added out of an abundance of caution due to their inclusion of some Elite chocolate products.
Customers with items suspected of containing the bacteria are welcome to contact Strauss on its website or via customer service at *6860.
In an interview on Channel 12 news Monday evening, Strauss Group in Israel CEO Eyal Dror apologized to the public, but insisted the company did nothing wrong.
“Last week, we received an initial indication of salmonella in our liquid chocolate tanks, which is the raw material we use to make our products,” he said. “At that moment, we stopped the process and notified the Health Ministry, before launching a series of tests,” Dror added, noting that the decision to shut down the factory, located in the Galilee region in northern Israel, was made by the company and not by the Health Ministry.
“It wasn’t until yesterday morning that we received information that indicated that the bacteria might be found in final products, which didn’t leave the factory,” he argued, “meaning that at that point we still don’t know of any product in the market that is even suspected of containing salmonella,” he clarified.