Unilever also recalling Strauss ice cream as a precaution

Strauss in huge recall of chocolate throughout country over salmonella fears

Some reports characterize recall as Israel’s largest ever; food manufacturer said to have waited days before announcing danger; CEO apologizes but denies wrongdoing

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

Illustrative: Elite brand chocolate bars. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Elite brand chocolate bars. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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 recall was an immense one, and Channel 12 characterized it as the largest food recall to ever take place in Israel.

“A few samples containing the salmonella bacteria were discovered in the factory’s production line and in the chocolate used as a raw material to create products,” Strauss Group said Monday morning, causing the company’s shares to fall by about 2.85 percent.

But the company may face public outrage after several reports in Hebrew media charged that the food manufacturing giant became aware of the health hazard last week, and waited days to notify the public of the danger.

According to reports in The Marker and Walla, the company did not order the recall before getting final test results on the products, which were delayed due to the Passover holiday and therefore only received on Sunday.

Many Israelis purchased items produced in the shutdown factory over the past few days, however. Strauss Group said that those who purchased the company’s products will receive compensation.

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.

Illustrative. Energy chocolate-coated crackers. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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 given to Channel 12 Monday evening, CEO of Strauss Group in Israel Eyal Dror apologized to the Israeli 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,” he 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.

Asked why the company failed to take immediate action to notify the public once it had an indication of the health hazard, Dror said: “I can understand that some people are disappointed in us, angry at us, I would like to offer my apology… You need to understand that beyond working with the Health Ministry in full transparency, there is a process that takes time. Many times you have suspicions that are later refuted. I can understand that people are upset about this process, but I can honestly say that everything we did was done with the most genuine concern for the public’s health.”

View of Strauss Group offices in Karmiel, Northern Israel, on November 10, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Following the announcement, Unilever, which manufacturers Strauss ice cream said it would recall some of the products which contained ingredients from the contaminated factory as a precaution, even though it had discovered no signs of salmonella.

Unilever said it made the decision out of an abundance of caution “even though Strauss-Elite confirmed to us that the chocolate the supplied had been tested and found to fine, and even though our own tests found the products to be normal.”

The Health Ministry said it was unaware of Israelis who have been infected by the salmonella bacteria as a result of consuming one of the products, as of Monday.

Still, the company may face long-term damage beyond the expenses of recalling the products.

Dr. Einav Friedman, an expert in corporate management at Ben Gurion University, told Channel 12 that the public may remember this incident for years to come.

“The public needs a long time to forgive when it sees the company is not doing everything it can in order to be transparent,” she said.

Hagit, a resident of Hadera, told Walla News she had planned to buy chocolate treats for her grandchildren, but would not buy any products after hearing about the warning.

“My daughter called me and said I shouldn’t buy anything because they said there was salmonella in some of the products. I won’t take any chances, despite the warning applying to products with certain dates,” she said.

Earlier this month, the official Israeli importer and distributor of Ferrero products, Premium Confectionery and Trading, said it was joining the UK in recalling some Kinder products produced by the Italian company in its factory in Belgium, due to concerns of the products being contaminated with the salmonella bacteria.

The items that were recalled included Kinder Schoko-Bons (46 grams and 125 grams) and Kinder Surprise Eggs Maxi (100 grams), according to a statement issued by the Health Ministry.

Illustrative: Israelis shop for groceries at a supermarket in Jerusalem on March 18, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

In related news, Israeli importer K.A. Chocolate & Gourmet Ltd said Monday that it was recalling one of its imported Nutella products, due to a mistake on its food allergies disclaimer label.

According to a statement issued by the company, the product, Nutella biscuits, produced by Italian company Ferrero Group, will be taken off the shelves after a routine check conducted by the Health Ministry found that hazelnuts were omitted from the product’s allergies label despite appearing as one of its ingredients.

The warning specifically refers to Nutella Biscuits products with an expiration date of June 11, 2022.

“Costumers with an allergy to hazelnuts or to any other ingredients that appear on the product’s label, are asked not to consume it,” the Israeli importer said, adding that it is coordinating further steps with the Health Ministry to ensure that the product is collected from all distribution points.

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