Israelis have likely eaten salmonella-tainted version of tahina, a sesame-seed paste that is ubiquitous to Israeli cuisine, the CEO of a major producer of hummus and tahina products said Thursday.
Some 200 tons of tahina are slated for destruction after Health Ministry inspectors said the product is tainted by the bacteria. The factory that produced the paste, Prince Tahina, announced the discovery late Wednesday and has recalled shipments sent to Israeli companies that use its tahina to make a wide variety of food products.
The discovery led one of Prince Tahina’s biggest customers and one of Israel’s largest hummus manufacturers — the Salatey Shamir (Shamir Salads) brand, which produces several lines of generic and branded hummus, tahina and other dips and spreads — to issue a recall of over 10 days’ worth of the product.
Prince Tahina’s recall came too late, Shamir Salads CEO Ami Guy claimed on Thursday in an interview with the Ynet news site.
“The tahina supplier notified us too late. We’ve already been producing this [tainted tahina] for 10 days. We can assume that people have eaten from these products,” Guy said.
“In the wake of [Prince Tahina’s] notice and in coordination with the Health Ministry and the National Food Service, company management decided to recall all products made with this ingredient,” a statement from Shamir Salads said Thursday.
“We ask customers not to consume these products.”
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 tahina 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-tahina products from the brands Shufersal, Yesh, Shamir, Asli, Hamutag, Delicatessen, Salatey Habait, Yohananof, and Picnic, with expiration dates between September 1 and 18, 2016.
Anyone who purchased any of these products is urged to call a customer support hotline set up by Shamir Salads at phone number 03-906-7744.
The company said it “apologizes for the error, which was not caused by us, and is working to remove the products from shelves and all distribution lines.” It said it maintains the “strictest international quality standards and will do everything necessary to ensure the quality and safety of its products.”
It promised to act swiftly to “replace the removed products with new products.”
A Health Ministry statement said Thursday its investigation into the salmonella’s presence in the Prince Tahina factory is ongoing.
In a separate incident on Thursday, Health Ministry officials destroyed four tons of unpasteurized camel’s milk sold at a supermarket in Moshav Sitriya, a village in central Israel, after two children were hospitalized at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital with an infection of the brucellosis bacteria believed to have been consumed via the milk.
The milk’s provenance is unknown, inspectors said, and was sold under the brand name “Chalav Breishit,” or “Genesis Milk.”
Officials say they are ordering the closing of the Sitriya supermarket.
The recall announcement drew immediate criticism from MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who chairs the consumer safety caucus in the Knesset. He directed his ire at the Health Ministry, not Prince Tahina.
“The Health Ministry needs to seriously examine itself,” he said in a Thursday statement. “Its policy for protecting public health from tainted food is ineffective. This is the third incident in two weeks, and it’s time for someone over there to wake up, before a disaster happens.”
Last week, Unilever Israel, owner of the Telma brand of cereals, announced it had accidentally shipped to stores salmonella-tainted boxes of cornflakes.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry said it had suspended a manufacturing license given to the company after its inspection of Unilever’s Arad plant — where the cornflakes were produced — found the company to have been negligent, but not malicious.
“This was a series of negligent mistakes, and not an incident with malicious intent by the firm’s management and quality control procedures,” the ministry’s statement read.
The company had initially refused to alert the public, saying that the tainted cereal had not left the plant. However, according to Channel 10 television, a Unilever inspection early Friday morning showed that some 240 boxes of contaminated cereal were neither on supermarket shelves nor in storerooms, and are thought to have been sold by the Shufersal supermarket chain nationwide. The boxes are reportedly from the same shipment as the tainted package that sparked the recall.
The ministry said in a statement that its investigation was ongoing and the source of the bacterial outbreak has not been located.
MK Shmuli wasn’t the only lawmaker to call for an inquiry into Health Ministry inspection failures in the wake of these incidents.
The chairperson of the Knesset State Control Committee, MK Karine Elharar (Yesh Atid), echoed Shmuli’s sentiments after the Unilever story broke: “Israel can’t rely on the self-reporting of companies. The Health Ministry has to scrutinize production lines. We want to ask: What was the Health Ministry’s role in this?”