Salmonella contaminates the world’s largest chocolate factory

The production of the chocolate factory of the Swiss group Barry Callebaut in the city of Wieze, Belgium, was interrupted after the discovery of contamination by Salmonella.

A statement posted on the group’s website says the company’s “decisive and swift action” has protected consumers’ health risk. The detection of the positive production lot for Salmonella was on the 27th of June.

The chocolate factory in Wieze is the largest in the world, according to government tourism website Visit Flanders.

Here’s what we know so far about the case.

Have there been cases of infected people?

According to information from AFP, so far, there is no information on people infected due to ingestion of the products.

The company’s food safety program identified lecithin — an emulsifying substance commonly used to make chocolate easier to shape — as a source of contamination.

The Belgian food authorities (FAVV) were informed by Barry Callebaut about the incident. All chocolate production lines were stopped as a precautionary measure. Furthermore, all products manufactured after June 25th have been suspended from distribution.

What does the company say?

According to the company, no contaminated chocolate “entered the retail food chain”. A company spokesman said the factory produces liquid chocolate in wholesale batches for 73 confectionery customers, according to AFP. This means that sales are made to companies and not directly to consumers.

Most of the products that were contaminated were still at the factory, the group’s spokesman said. According to Barry Callebaut, 72 of the 73 companies confirmed that they stopped deliveries of chocolate that may be contaminated and managed to prevent the products from reaching stores. The manufacturer was still waiting for a response from one of the customers.

Also according to Barry Callebaut, food safety is of the utmost importance to the group and the contamination in one of the factories was quite exceptional. Chocolate production in Wieze will remain suspended until further notice.

The group carries out a thorough analysis of the incident and keeps the Belgian authorities informed about the process. Once the investigation is complete, the lines will be cleaned and disinfected before resuming production.

Who does the group supply to?

Also according to AFP information, Barry Callebaut supplies cocoa and chocolate-derived products to many companies in the food industry.

Among them are industry giants such as Hershey’s, Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever. Considered number one worldwide in the sector, the group sold 2.2 million tons of products during the financial year 2020 to 2021.

However, it is important to note that the Wieze factory where Salmonella contamination was detected does not produce chocolates to be sold directly to consumers. Thus, the company has no reason to believe that any contaminated product made by customers has reached store shelves.

What is the danger of contamination by Salmonella?

Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea and fever. After contamination, symptoms usually appear within two days. Generally, the illness lasts for up to seven days.

However, there are cases of contamination that can be more serious. Care should be focused on children, especially children under five, as well as the elderly and people with some form of immunosuppression.

Treatment includes rest and light food, in less severe cases. In turn, the most severe cases include the use of antibiotics, which must be evaluated with caution, as some bacteria may have antimicrobial resistance.

Ferrero Group went through a similar situation

In April, the Ferrero group, owner of the Kinder brand, stopped the activities of a chocolate factory in Arlon, Belgium, also due to contamination by Salmonella. The suspension of the operation came after the emergence of cases of contamination among children in Europe.

In addition, the Belgian Food Safety Agency (Afsca) has ordered the recall of all products, regardless of batch and date of manufacture. Among the products were Kinder Surprise, Kinder Mini Eggs, Kinder Surprise Maxi, as well as bonbons that were manufactured at the Arlon unit.

The management of the Ferrero group publicly apologized for the episode. More than 3 thousand tons of products had to be removed from the shelves after the revelation of contamination by the bacteria. By mid-April, at least 150 cases of Salmonella had been detected in nine European countries.

The Belgian court only authorized the reopening of the factory in Arlon in June, during a trial period. This permission to resume activities lasts for three months and each ingredient will be analyzed before the products are distributed and sold.

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