Health Ministry findings: Pigeons in Strauss plant but no Food Safety Manager

In recent months, maintenance work had been carried out in the production facility, parallel with the continuation of the chocolate production.

 View of the Strauss Elite candy factory in Nazareth, Northern Israel, after salmonella was found in a few of their products, on April 28, 2022. (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
View of the Strauss Elite candy factory in Nazareth, Northern Israel, after salmonella was found in a few of their products, on April 28, 2022.
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

A Health Ministry investigation into the Strauss-Elite production facility has found several problems with the company’s procedures and conduct, all of which could have been a contributing factor to the discovery of salmonella in the factory and the largest product recall in Israeli history early last week.

The following issues were listed in the Health Ministry report as the main areas in which the company was found deficient:

Maintenance work in the plant

In recent months, maintenance work had been carried out in the production facility, along with chocolate production. The company did not take into account the risk that this could pose to the production process and the potential of the construction work to introduce contaminants into the ingredients.

Pigeons in the facility 

During the Health Ministry’s investigation, the company confessed that several weeks earlier, there had been an intrusion of pigeons into the production facility. While they said an exterminator was immediately called to the factory and the issue was resolved, the correct tests were not carried out to ensure that no contaminants had been left behind by the birds, which are known to carry a variety of bacteria in their droppings.

 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)

No Food Safety Manager

The investigation revealed that the professional quality-control team at the factory had been replaced in the last year, and as a result, there had been no food-safety manager at the plant for the last several months, indicating that the quality-control and safety system in the Strauss-Elite factory was lacking.

Salmonella warnings went unchecked

Another point of concern discovered by the Health Ministry was information that a factory worker had reported an indication that there were higher-than-permitted levels of salmonella in the raw-chocolate ingredients. The complaint was not dealt with by the plant at the time, and no tests were carried out to confirm whether the indication was correct.

Unsafe thawing processes

The final issue reported by the Health Ministry in the preliminary investigation was that the facility had not been following the correct procedures regarding the thawing and storing of milk fat, a key ingredient in the production of milk chocolate. This, too, could have led to the salmonella contamination in the production line.

The Health Ministry’s head of Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, on Sunday addressed the report findings in a video statement. As a result of the findings, the Health Ministry had decided to suspend Strauss’s production license for a three-month period or until the issues noted in the investigation have been corrected to meet the approved standard, she said.

“We will ensure that the products that leave the factory from here on out will be safe for the consumer’s needs,” Alroy-Preis said, adding that the license to produce and sell food will not be reinstated until the factory meets the requirements laid out for them in the report.

Furthermore, the Health Ministry has run tests on 300 different samples from finished products that had not yet reached the shelves so far and detected salmonella in 10% of them, she said. Until now, no products removed from the stores have been found to contain the bacteria, although the testing is still underway.

As required by law, a full report of the investigation has been sent by the Health Ministry to Strauss Group, which is required to respond within 14 days.

As of Sunday morning, 21 separate possible cases of salmonella have been identified, all of which can be traced back to Strauss-Elite products.

Cultures were taken from 16 patients, and the results are expected to be obtained in the coming days. Six of the patients were hospitalized, while the others were able to recover at home.