The decision, according to AFSCA, was due to the presence of Salmonella in the plant’s environment, the agency’s dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency on the part of the company regarding its Salmonella problem, and reports of Salmonella illnesses associated with the products from that plant.
In response to the AFSCA action, Ferrero expanded its initial recall to encompass all products manufactured in the Arlon facility. In doing so, the company also acknowledged that it had been aware of a Salmonella contamination problem in its production plant since December 15, 2021.
According to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), as of July 15th, 401 confirmed (n=399) and probable (n=2) cases of monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium had been reported in 13 EU member countries and the UK. An additional 54 cases were reported in Canada (n=4), Switzerland (n=49), and United States (n=1).
Specific chocolate products from a Belgian chocolate factory were identified as likely vehicles of infection in the ECDC report, although the agency did not mention the company by name.
A new beginning
Following extensive cleaning, testing, and updates to product safety protocols, trainings, and sampling in the plant, conducted by Ferrero in concert with the AFSCA, the Belgian agency granted Ferrero conditional authorisation to restart its production lines on June 17, 2022.
After three months of probationary production, the authorization has now been finalized.
In announcing the authorization, Ferrero expressed its gratitude with AFSCA’s close collaboration and its assistance, and promised to do better going forward.
“We have learned a lot during this period and have quickly put these learnings into practice,” the company said in its news release. “The granting of our production licence means everything is in place for our factory to produce with confidence and we will continue to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”
Although the names sound as though they belong on the letterhead of a law practice, or of an accounting firm, Abbott Nutrition, Ferrero International, and Strauss Group are three distinct companies, located in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, respectively.
Each of these companies is currently managing multinational product recalls.
And two of the recalls have been associated with outbreaks of foodborne disease.
The factory manufactures a range of Elite brand chocolate products, and also supplies chocolate to other food processors.
The Ministry of Health instructed Strauss to conduct more extensive tests on its finished products, raw materials, and production environment.
On April 21, 2022, using a rapid test, Strauss found indications of Salmonella in some raw material.
It took an additional three days to confirm these preliminary positive results, during which time no warning was issued to the public. Nor, as far as we can tell, was any product put on hold.
On April 24, 2022, once the preliminary results had been confirmed, Strauss initiated a recall of multiple Elite chocolate products, explaining that Salmonella had been discovered in the production line at the company’s Nof HaGlil’ manufacturing plant. Samples of chocolate used as an ingredient for other products also tested positive for Salmonella.
On April 25, 2022, Unilever Israel recalled multiple ice cream products that contained chocolate supplied by Strauss.
On April 27, 2022, more than one full week after first reporting the presence of Salmonella in the production plant,Strauss expanded its recall to include all expiration dates of all products manufactured by Elite’s chocolate factory, including Elite cakes, Elite wafers, cereal energy bars, chocolate-coated energy rice crisps, bubble gums and taffy candies.
The company has suspended operations at the manufacturing facility while it conducts and investigation into the cause and source of the contamination and carries out an intensive cleaning and sanitizing of the production area.
Although Israel’s Ministry of Health has not announced any indications of an outbreak linked to the recalled chocolates, TheJerusalem Post reported that a 10-year-old boy was diagnosed with Salmonella on April 27th after being admitted to hospital with severe dehydration as a result of extensive vomiting and diarrhea.
Ferrero – Kinder chocolate products
On December 15, 2021, Ferrero detected Salmonella on the surface and in residual raw materials samples taken from buttermilk tanks in its Arlon, Belgium manufacturing facility.
The company did not notify the Belgian food safety authority of this finding until early April 2022.
Instead, Ferrero suspended production, destroyed the affected semi-finished product, carried out a deep cleaning of the entire line, and resumed production. Finished product manufactured on the line was released for distribution following negative test results.
Additional samples tested in January 2022 also were positive for Salmonella, including two samples from two buttermilk tanks, recorded on January 11th.
As before, the company suspended production, deep-cleaned the line and gradually resumed production.
On February 17, 2022, the UK reported a cluster of monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium cases to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
Between January 5th and February 8th, Ferrero had submitted nine Salmonella cultures to an Italian lab for serological and molecular typing.
Four of those cultures were a match for the outbreak strain.
By April 8, 2022, the ECDC had received reports of 150 cases from nine EU countries and the UK.
Most of the cases were in children less than ten years of age, and many of the children were hospitalized.
On April 8th, the Belgian food safety authority withdrew its production authorization for Ferrero’s Arlon manufacturing facility, announcing that it could not rely on the information the company had been providing.
That same day, Ferrero recalled all of the Kinder chocolate products manufactured in the Arlon facility.
As of April 19th, the number of cases had risen to 187 cases in 11 EU countries and the UK.
It could be argued that Strauss’s delay in recalling its chocolate products was relatively minor and without any significant impact on public health.
It is more difficult to justify a similar argument in the case of Ferrero.
Had the company destroyed the finished products impacted by its buttermilk contamination rather than testing and releasing, a multi-national Salmonella outbreak most likely would have been avoided.
Yet, Ferrero’s actions pale in comparison to the situation at Abbott Nutriton’s Sturgis, Michigan production facility, as alleged in a whistleblower complaint lodged with the FDA last October.
According to the whistleblower, company management has been falsifying records, shortchanging preventative maintenance, skimping on sanitation, and turning a blind eye to microbiological problems in the plant.
While we have only the whisteblower’s word for many of the allegations, some of what he or she has reported has been substantiated in the FDA’s Establishment Inspection Reports from September 2019 and September 2021, and in the Inspectional Observations (FDA Form 483) documented during the January – March 2022 investigation of the Sturgis facility, as described in earlier eFoodAlert posts.
FDA actions vis-a-vis Abbott Nutrition
The apparent ease with which Abbott allegedly pulled the wool over the eyes of FDA inspectors during the 2019 and 2021 inspections is troubling, to say the least.
Even though the inspectors were advised during the September 2021 plant visit of consumer complaints of Salmonella infections associated with Abbott products, they did not carry out any independent environmental sampling during the course of their plant visits. Instead, they relied on the company’s reports of how the complaints were investigated and deemed to be unsubstantiated.
Reports of equipment maintenance also were taken at face value, as were sanitation records.
Coincidentally, while the FDA inspectors were on site at Abbott in September 2021, the agency was alerted to the first of four confirmed reports of Cronobacter sakazakii in an infant who had been fed an Abbott powdered infant formula.
The following month, on October 20, 2021, the whistleblower complaint was submitted to the FDA.
The agency did not get around to interviewing the whistleblower until late December, and the FDA did not begin its in-depth investigation into the operations of Abbott’s Sturgis facility until January 31, 2022.
By then, two additional reports of Cronobacter-infected infants and one report of a Salmonella-infected infant had been lodged with the FDA.
Before the completion of the January – March 2022 Abbott inspection, a fourth Cronobacter-infected infant was identified.
Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.
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International recall of Ferrero’s Kinder chocolate products
Ferrero has expanded its international recall of Kinder Surprise chocolate novelty products, linked to a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses. Click on the country link to navigate to the most recent recall notice for that jurisdiction.
OUTBREAK INVESTIGATION (UK): The UK Health Security Agency is investigating a higher than usual number of cases of hepatitis in children in England. There are approximately 60 cases under investigation in children under 10 years of age. A similar investigation is underway in Scotland. In the cases under investigation the common viruses that cause hepatitis have not been detected.
Allergy Alert (Italy): Centro Latte Bressanone Soc. Agr. Coop. recalls Mozzarella Vivibene Selex Bocconcini “senza lattosio” / Lactose-free mozzarella (125g; Lots 94, 95 (03.05) – 96, 97 (05.05); Best before 03.05 and 05.05) due to undeclared lactose.
Allergy Alert (Netherlands): Albert Heijn recalls AH Krenten rozijnbrood / Currant raisin bread (5 slices/pkg; Best before April 16, 2022) due to undeclared nuts, barley, oats and rye.
Food Safety Recall (Belgium): Smartmat NV recalls Foodbag One Meal Box Plat de riz avec bœuf mariné et poivron / rice dish with marinated beef and bell pepper (Use by 10/04/2022 and 11/04/2022) and Lanières de bœuf marinées à la thaïlandaise / Thai-style marinated beef strips (Lots 220404 and 220405; Use by 11/04/2022 and 12/04/2022) due to Salmonella contamination.