Chocolate leaves stores as Strauss reports salmonella contamination

A report from Calcalist alleges that the company has known about the contamination since last week, yet only reported on it today.

 Illustrative image of an Elite chocolate bar.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Illustrative image of an Elite chocolate bar.

A routine test at the Strauss Group’s Elite chocolate factory has led to the recall of numerous products after several samples of salmonella were discovered in the factory’s production line on Monday morning.

Salmonella on the production line

In a public announcement on Monday morning, the company stated that “a number of samples containing salmonella were discovered in the factory’s production line and in the chocolate used as a raw material to create products,” adding that the food service department at the Health Ministry was immediately notified.

As a precautionary measure and out of a concern regarding the integrity of the products, Strauss has decided, in cooperation with the Health Ministry, to recall any products from specific batches that could contain the contaminated ingredients.

Items included in product recall

  • Chocolate bars (Cow, Blondie, and Splendid brand) with a best before date between 01.10.22-24.04.23
  • Pesek Zman, Memolada and Crunch chocolate snack bars with a best before date between 01.12.22 - 01.04.23
  • Taami, Egozi, and Kif Kef chocolate bars with a best before date between 01.07.22 - 15.01.23
  • “Energy” chocolate coated rice cakes and chocolate cereal bars with a best before date between 01.07.22 - 15.01.23
  • Reva L’Sheva snack bars with a best before date between 01.05.22 - 15.12.23
  • Brownie cake, Pesek Zman cake and rolls with a best before date between 10.07.22 - 31.08.22
  • Chocolate “XL” wafers with a best before date between 15.11.22 - 01.01.23
  • “Bonbonierre” selection boxes dated best before 9.4.23 and 21.2.23 only
  • Kosher for Passover “Milky” chocolate pudding with a chocolate lentil topping with any of the following best before dates: 26/4/22, 3/5/22, 11/5/22, 12/5/22, 16/5/22
 Strauss products seen on supermarket shelves shortly after company announces recall, April 25, 2022.  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Strauss products seen on supermarket shelves shortly after company announces recall, April 25, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Late Monday evening, a recall was also issued by Unilever Israel for many of their products, as a result of the contamination at the Strauss facility, which provides the raw ingredients for Unilever’s own production lines.

“Although Strauss/Elite has confirmed to us that the chocolate it supplied us a raw material has been tested and found to be in good condition, and although our tests have shown that our products are in good condition, Strauss Ice Cream at Unilever Israel announces a recall on some of our products. This is as a means of additional caution,” read the company’s statement.

Items named in the Unilever Israel recall include Magnum ice cream, Pesek Zman ice cream, Solero coconut ice cream bars and multiple flavors of the Kremisimo ice cream tubs.

Source of the salmonella is still unknown

The product list is not yet final and is subject to change as the investigation continues as the exact source of the contaminant has not yet been identified and more products containing the salmonella contaminant may still be detected.

The company asked the public not to consume these products if they had already been purchased and stated that consumers who have purchased the products and must now dispose of them can receive a compensation voucher in return.

They stressed that from the moment the contaminant was discovered, the production of the various chocolate products was halted and all scheduled distribution of the products was stopped.

The company has said that they are “carrying out extensive operations in order to locate the source of the problem,” and that production and distribution will resume once all production lines are deemed safe.

The million-dollar question: When did Strauss know?

Despite Strauss Group’s initial reassurance that production was stopped immediately upon discovery of the contaminant, an article published in Calcalist on Monday morning suggested that in actuality, Strauss/Elite first discovered the possibility of salmonella contaminants in the production facility as early as last week. However, they chose not to publicize the information until Monday morning after receiving confirmation that the contaminant was also present in the finished chocolate products.

Following Calcalist’s report, the Health Ministry released a video statement clarifying that indeed, Strauss had first detected the salmonella contaminant a week prior, but cited the Passover holiday for the delay in confirming its presence in the finished product and reporting it to the public.

Further angering the public was the fact that Strauss received a definitive answer regarding the salmonella contamination on Sunday evening and yet chose to wait until Monday morning to issue a recall. While technically speaking, they did operate according to procedure and reported the contamination in finished products within 24 hours of receiving confirmation the decision to wait until the morning was controversial because many feel it should have been reported as soon as it was confirmed, given the severe health damage that salmonella can cause.

The Jerusalem Post reached out to Strauss Group for further comment on the delay in reporting the contaminant to the public but did not receive a response

Impact on Strauss and Israeli consumers

Impact on Strauss and Israeli consumers

As a result of the news that multiple products contained possible contaminants, Strauss Group’s shares crashed on the stock exchange, dropping by 2.83% compared to a day earlier. Strauss controls over 50% of Israel’s chocolate industry, and the damage the company will face as a result is estimated to be tens of millions of shekel.

Responding to this news, Strauss has said that they are aware that this incident may have a significant impact on the company’s profitability for 2022. 

The immediate impact the news has had on the public is evident, with many taking to social media to inquire about the effects of Salmonella and if there was any way to determine whether or not the chocolate they had just recently eaten could have been contaminated.

“I ate Elite chocolate just yesterday. How much longer do I have to live?” quipped Army Radio reporter Itai Zilber on Twitter. 

Speaking to Walla News, consumers expressed concerns regarding the situation and how it had been allowed to happen. 

“It’s scary that it happened, the quality control was not strict enough,” one consumer stated. 

“I eat a lot of these products and it’s scary to think I might have eaten a contaminated item,” another was reported as saying.

While the company says that they have yet to receive any definitive confirmations of salmonella cases being traced back to their products, there have been several reports of food poisoning-like symptoms in people who have eaten Strauss products in recent days. The Health Ministry has issued a recommendation for anyone experiencing salmonella symptoms to see a doctor for a formal confirmation.

Meanwhile, multiple complaints on social media state that they have been unable to reach Strauss’ customer service line when attempting to receive a refund voucher or when trying to report symptoms akin to food poisoning.