JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Health Ministry has suspended a manufacturing permit of the Unilever corporation over cornflakes contaminated with salmonella.
The ministry announced the suspension on Sunday, more than a month after some of the boxes containing the tainted breakfast cereal were shipped from the factory.
An internal investigation revealed that the contaminated products had been shipped from the factory June 30, some five weeks earlier, but that management had not realized it.
The contamination originated at the Telma factory in Arad in southern Israel. The source of the contamination has not yet been found.
The ministry inspected the factory on Sunday and has hired an external investigator to assist in finding the source of the contamination, it said in the statement.
“The company co-operated fully with the inspection. The Health Ministry team believes that the incident was a series of negligent errors and not a case of anything intentional on the part of the company’s management and quality-control system,” the ministry said in its statement. The ministry said it would carry out daily inspections of the factory until it is satisfied that no contamination remains.
Unilever reportedly initially attempted to hide the contamination, since it believed that it had caught it before any of the product was shipped out of the factory, according to the Haaretz business daily The Marker. However, it came to light on Thursday that a pallet containing 240 boxes of the tainted Telma cereals had been shipped to stores.
A total of 154,000 boxes of cereal were discovered to be contaminated. Unilever said it let the boxes sit in the factory for more than three weeks while it figured out the logistics of destroying such a large quantity of product, according to the Marker.
The revoked Good Manufacturing practice permit does not stop production, but removes the company’s exemption from frequent health inspection.