Members of the Knesset State Control Committee are being called back from their vacations to a special session on Tuesday for an investigation into the failure to to prevent salmonella-tainted Telma cornflakes from reaching consumers in Israel.
An inquiry team will arrive at the Unilever Israel Telma factory in Arad as well to conduct a “comprehensive inspection,” lawmakers said, and may consider legal action against the firm.
The Health Ministry has also set up a separate commission of inquiry, headed by Prof. Itamar Gruto, chief of public health services at the ministry.
“We are considering removing the license on the production line,” said Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) on Friday. “Unilever has failed in its conduct and lied to the public and to the Ministry of Health. We view that with severity.”
Inspectors at the manufacturer’s Unilever umbrella company discovered early Friday that 240 boxes of the popular cereal were nowhere to be found, according to a report by Channel 10 News.
All were part of the same shipment recalled by Telma last week due to the discovery of salmonella bacteria in one of the packages.
But it is feared the missing boxes have already reached consumers who shopped at the Shufersal supermarket chain. A customer called the Unilever hotline to report she had purchased a box of the cereal that matched the recalled product number.
Unilever contacted Shufersal to track down where the sale had taken place, eventually pinning it down to the store in Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak, in central Israel. Unilever Israel CEO Anat Gabriel also issued a public apology on Thursday night. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the recent events,” she said. “We apologize that we mistakenly announced that no product from the tainted line had reached the market.”
The incident sparked heightened concerns from the Health Ministry, which issued a statement Saturday night, warning that consumers who become ill to call a doctor right away. “We see in this announcement [that tainted boxes were sold] a result of negligence on the part of the company, both towards the public and toward the Health Ministry,” the ministry said.
“The species of salmonella [in question] is not rare or aggressive. It may cause diarrhea or fever. If these symptoms appear, please turn to your doctor.”
The missing packages, which were tracked, are not to be found in any of the storerooms nor on any supermarket shelves stocked by the distributors.
Unilever Israel also released a contamination notice to consumers that read: “Consumers who have in their possession a product on the above list are asked to not consume it and to contact Unilever’s consumer service desk, telephone 1-800-780-780, to obtain a replacement product and have the product in your possession collected.”
The “above list” referred to 240 750-gram packets of Telma brand cornflakes with kosher certification from the ultra-Orthodox Edah Haharedit organization and a production date of June 27, 2016.
The notice asked consumers to take a precautionary measure by avoiding several brands in particular such as Cornflakes of Champions cereal (Alufim) purchased on June 26 and 27; Eda HaHaredit kosher-certified Cornflakes purchased on June 23, June 27, 28 and 29; and Cocoman Tzedafim (Shells) cereal purchased on June 29 and 30.
Tazpit Press Service (TPS) contributed to this report.
Hana Levi Julian